Let Them Eat Cake

Four hundred and forty-eight days ago I lost my 44 year old son to a quick and life-altering brain disease. But, it wasn’t just me losing a beloved child. My husband also lost a son and our daughter lost her best buddy in the world; her brother.  

Many people have been affected by his death. Many people have held us close to their hearts, literally and I hope his extended family as well as his Oregon family have gathered together and talked about him.

Especially today – his birthday.

He would have turned 46 which is very hard to believe, since I’m only 50. (not)

Gretchen, Terry and I wanted to honor him in a special way. A way that would make him smile that big crinkly smile of his and have his big ol’ eyes sparkle.  So, that’s what we did. 

I’d read about a woman, about a year ago, who recognized her late son in a very special way on his birthday. She went to the bakery in her local grocery store and asked if they had any little boy birthday cakes that would be picked up that day. Then she would pay for the cake and be an anonymous gifter.

Terry, Gretchen and I talked about doing that this year. So today, after a meeting at church, Ter and I stopped at Publix and sat in the car while we haggled out what we’d say to the clerk. “We’d like to anonymously pay for a little boys birthday cake.” We wondered how that would be taken and if there’d be a crowd on a Saturday. We decided we’d wing it and headed inside.

On the way back to the bakery, we tried to decide which one of us would do the talking. As we got closer, we noticed a guy leaning over the bakery case and Ter hurried to became the next in line by inches. I sidled up between him and the guy leaning over the case. 

“Yes! It’s a Car Cake,” the guy said to the lady holding a large cake box behind the case.

I nudged Terry. “It’s him,” I whispered loudly. 

“Excuse me,” Ter said. “Is that for your son?”

“Yes, it is. He’s three today.” His smile said it all.

“Would you please let us buy that cake for you?”

He politely refused until we told him our story. He relented, told us he had to pick up a few other things, including balloons at the front of the store. Terry ripped the bar-code off the cake and took it to the front of the store and paid for it. The dad and his mother met us at the balloons.

“I’m the Grandma!” she said as she moved between Ter and me and pulled us into a group hug.

The dad said, “I can’t wait to get home and tell my wife this story.” His smile said even more.

We couldn’t wait to get home and tell Gretchen the story.

Cars Cake.jpg

Happy Birthday, Boys!

 

 

Mother’s Day 2019

Santas workshop me two kids                                          Around 1977-78

 

My first born made me a Mother.

My second born made me a Mom.

This will be my first Mother’s Day without my firstborn.

My second born is feeling his absence as much as I am. So is his Dad.

To all the Mothers, and others who’ve taken a mother’s place,

and have lived through the loss of a child…

It’s sad.

It’s weird.

It’s uncomfortable.

It’s debilitating.

It’s soul-sucking,

heart-wrenching,

and it’s out-of-order.

I don’t know what to expect. I will try to focus on who I have more than who I’ve lost.

{I know he’s sad, too}

My first born made me a Mother.

My second born has me as a Mom.

 

In loving memory of Terry Christopher Dunham, August 10, 1973 – May 20, 2018

With admiration and love to Gretchen Sue Dunham, aka Baby Girl, February 16, 1976 –      infinity and beyond

 

Love always, Mommy

Gratitude and Crap

[This post has been edited on 04/10/19]

This is a season of gratitude and crap.

Gratitude because our hockey team, the Nashville Predators just won the Division Championship.

Crap because our hockey team, blah-blah-blah, just won the Division Championship and now we’re in the playoffs.

Gratitude because we’re in the playoffs.

Crap because we’re in the playoffs which reminds me of our son going to playoff games with us in 2017 and celebrating his favorite player, Victor Arviddson. Chris had also started acting odd. Odd like getting lost, leaving games early, not showing up on time to go to games and other abnormal behaviors like losing jobs.

The playoff year of 2018 was worse. In January Chris was diagnosed with a very rare brain disease:  adult onset leukodystophy with axonal spheroids and pigmented glia.

Gratitude for 911, EMS, ER’s, PhD’s, MD’s, RN’s, LPN’s, PT’s, Family, Friends, Neighbors, Strangers and God’s presence entwined in our Hell.

Crap because they were all needed.

Gratitude for the diversion in the spring of 2018 when the Predators got into the playoffs again. Chris stayed home with Gretchen and the home caregiver that would come while we were at the games. He needed help eating and walking, but he sat and watched the Predators with his sister and his caregiver – falling asleep many times in the recliner.

I’m coming to the conclusion that everything in our personal lives, focuses on our children. No matter how old they get, they’re still our children. I’d gotten to the age where I would joke that our kids, Chris and Gretchen, were now older than me. Terry has always been an old soul. Me, not so much, although I feel like my soul has aged decades in less than a year.

Gratitude for our daughter who was such a hero to him and to us. She is very devoted to her brother and they loved each other dearly. My heart will never heal from their sorrows.

Crap because I’m writing about loss again. It’s almost a year since our son Chris died. Time flies, and then again, it stands still.

Gratitude.  I got words down.

Crap. I  got words down.

Go Preds~

 

Gratitude

A neighbor gifted me a book on grief. It’s been a Godsend.

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Long Time, No Words

Last night my wonderful friends in CAPS, our writing group, reminded me of how long it’s been since I’ve worked on my book. Over two years.

“Start in again with your creative nonfiction. That’s so easy for you and you’re so good at it. Write a blog.”

“We’ll see,” I replied.  “I just don’t have any words.”

So a little bit ago, after checking my email and surfing the seas of Facebook where I checked into local events that I was “Interested” in, knowing I’d never go, I decided not to follow the rabbit trail to Tri-Peaks Solitaire or Hit It Rich Casino games like I usually do. I thought, “Let’s be a brave grown-up and check into WordPress to see if we can get any words down.”

I had to look up my username and password. I discovered my last post was June of 2018 the month after my son, our son and our daughter’s brother died. My heart broke all over again. I read the last two posts, tormenting my soul, my heart, my memories. The nightmares. The exhaustion. The fear. The hopelessness of never seeing his smile, hearing his voice, or enjoying the kitchen with him. Loving his ‘ways’. Getting his amazing hugs.

That’s all gone.

I look for signs. Lights flickering. Dimes. Pennies. Anything.

All I get are tears.

So here I am, tears streaming down my face wondering what you want to read. Maybe you want to know how we’re doing. I’ll share. The holidays sucked. Truth. No sugarcoating it. Not entirely but we couldn’t wait for them to be over. They were the hardest ever. Also, I’m on medication since summer for depression. Or maybe it was fall. Who knows?

In June it took me three days to make one pie. (It was inedible except for sweet Jack who ate his piece)

I couldn’t complete —– a sentence.

I went into his room a lot and cried. Smelled the clothes in his closet, sat in the easy chair and stared out the window, looked at the ceiling knowing this was the place he left this world of ours on May 20th, as Terry and Gretchen, who held onto his hand, sat by his hospital bed. I walked in just after his last breath.

Going into his room always ended with me falling apart and breaking off more of my heart. So the three of us discussed painting the room. New paint like the main house. It helped. A lot. It’s a peaceful spot now and instead of Niagara Falls, a tear or two will drop from my chin. Or maybe three or four. We also painted and redecorated the bathroom Chris used.  Terry was his caregiver when it came to the bathroom. It’s still hard for him to enter that room. (I wanted to find a shower curtain that would honor both our kids. Chris’ devotion was for the elephants and Gretchen’s is for birds. I found a shower curtain with both of these creatures on it and included it at the end of this entry)

Terry and Gretchen and I cry. We also laugh and talk to him all the time. Chris is throughout the house. Pictures, statues, and cremains… Yup. He’s also down the street in the Williamson Memorial Cemetery, and in the Pacific Ocean and on the beach where he flew kites. The top of MacKenzie Pass in Oregon has him on the roots of a young pine growing in a lava field. Scott Lake on top of that mountain where he biked and picnicked with friends has him scattered on the shore and in the lake. He’s also in pockets, on top of dressers and who knows where else. Glass stones with his cremains were gifted to us and we’ve passed some out to his friends and our family. A tree is planted with his cremains in our backyard. He’s everywhere. Truly.

Gretchen’s emotional release has been to shop online. CRY – DON’T BUY was our motto for her. She’s finally crying and has been wearing Chris’s clothes and hats. I love that.

Terry and I release tears together a lot. We hug a lot. Ter played golf this summer/fall and that helped him. His golfing buddies have been an amazing support system for him as have our friends from church and our writer’s groups.

We did do Gingerbread Houses with our grandkids this year. I’ve done them with our kids for decades and then the grandkids joined in. Chris always won the best gingerbread house contest. Until last year when he just couldn’t figure out what to do with the graham crackers and royal icing. Gretchen wasn’t up to it this year, but she agreed to be the judge of the best house. It was nice.

So… This is all I’ve got for now, which is a hellava lot more than I’ve had for the last six months.

Life. It does go on. As hard as that is sometimes, it’s important to get back into the game of living. One day at a time. Knowing people love and care for us makes it easier. We’ve been blessed with loving family and framily. Still.

Peace and joyous days to you and yours.

Thanks for the love.

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The End is Another Beginning

I just read my last post, It’s 4 o’clock In The Morning, and sit here stunned.

There are no more sounds coming from his room.

The monitor has been shoved into a drawer and I don’t thoroughly understand why I’m sleeping through the night. Maybe it’s because the tension so many nights that were a small version of Hell. Little did I know that those nights were hard, but would get harder at the end.

My husband, daughter and I cared for him before and after Alive Hospice was summoned on May 4th. A Hospice nurse would check on him daily and take vitals. An aide would come two to three times a week for bathing. He was bedbound a week or so later. He was 44 and a vital cyclist. His heart…his heart wanted to beat. His brain was done. Shutting down.

His end was much like his beginning almost 45 years ago. We cared for him. Bathed him. Kept him comfortable. We loved him. His baby sister sat by his side, held his hand and would not leave him on his last two days in that room.

He’s gone; Into the Heavens and leaving rainbows in the sky without the rain.

Our lives have been filled with love from family and friends. He had a Celebration of Life that showed who he had been. What wonderful art and music and travels he made and enjoyed.

I will miss him, a part of my heart, until he introduces me to his new friends, Jesus and Abraham Lincoln.

‘Bike on!’ my son. You are loved by many. But none love you like your Mom, Dad and Sister. Forever and a day.

 

Terry Christopher Dunham

August 10 1973 – May 20, 2018

 

Thank you to Alive Hospice nurses and Aides who were kind, cried with us, praised our caretaking and brought T.C. a Willy Nelson Last Man Standing Tee Shirt.

Thank you to all the friends, neighbors and strangers who brought meals to us through Meal Train for so many weeks. We’re alive because of y ‘all.

Thank you to our church, Journey Franklin in Brentwood (don’t ask), for standing by us through thick and thin and helping us make Chris’ Celebration of Life so special. Bell’s Two Roses and cake. Absolutely perfect.

Thank you to Richland Health Center and their great Physical Therapists, Marcie and Thomas and Gracie,another Sturgill Simpson fan and our social worker who became friends of Chris and our family. They all visited him at home the week before he passed away.

Thanks too, to childhood friends Adam and Stan and Ted who wrote or visited from Michigan and/or NY.  And ‘new’ Tennessee friends, Peter, Brian and Sam.

Thank you to my cousins, my sister,  sister-in-law, niece and hubs, friends and family from South Carolina, Michigan, Indiana, New York, Arizona and Gramma from Florida who came to help us before and after. I love you so, Sissy.

Thanks, too, to all his Eugene friends and friends around the world who had kind and similar stories to tell about this sweet soul.

We are blessed to be his parents and sister for over four decades of his story.

We miss his joyful and peace-filled spirit.

Adventure awaits, Chris. Ride On!

And tell Abe we said “Hello”.

It’s 4 o’clock in the morning…

I woke at 4am, after a few fake-awakes during the night, with some real prickling cramps in my toes. The baby monitor laid facedown next to my pillow, the sound turned off. There have been too many nights listening. Coughing. Choking. I’d run in, check my son, adjust his head, consider suction or not-to-suction, wet his lips, give him water. I’d sit in the oversized chair and hold his hand,  stand and stroke his forehead, eyebrows, cheeks, run my fingers through his hair and whisper mother love-words to him.

Not this morning.

My son is 44 and dying from a rare brain disease.

This morning, I didn’t go in after I slowly turned the monitor over and saw him sleeping. I couldn’t turn the sound on. I wouldn’t turn the sound on — in case there wasn’t any.

My robe was hanging on the post at the foot of the bed, taunting me to sit up, put my bare feet on the floor, put that lime green summer robe on and go to the fridge to get a Gatorade for the cramps teasing my toes and thigh.

Fine. I’ll go.

Robe on. Feet slapping hardwood to the damn cold Gatorade. Grab stale oatmeal cookies from the pantry and leave the kitchen for my office. I stop to listen. I hear him snoring softly.

Do. Not. Disturb.

I don’t.

 

Hello Stranger ~

It’s been a long time since I’ve visited my blog. My life has changed forever since our son has gotten ill. Hell, all our lives have changed.

He’s kinda really sick. (That other ‘T’ word is still hard to type) Bossman and I are his main caregivers and we are old farts. Not extremely old, but old and farty enough. The Queen of English (aka daughter) is no spring chicken and she’s dis-abilitied, (creative word day!) and helps as much as she can with administering meds, etc…

A nurse comes to the house once or twice a week as well as physical and occupational therapists who each come twice a week. I thought only very rich people had this advantage, along with their own cooks, hairdressers, make-up artists and wardrobe gurus.

Ours is a wonky position to be in as caregivers and I’m looking into doing something about it. I’m in search of a Professional Caregiver. I’m sending out an email to a man God introduced to me yesterday at Richland Place where our son stayed for a month during his rehabilitation from multiple seizures. He also lost his Kindle there which is why I was there yesterday – to pick it up.

Gracie, our wonderful social worker at Richland tracked the Kindle down weeks ago, but yesterday was the first time we were able to stop and get it. The Queen of English and I had been in the area at Vanderbilt for her first test in a study she’s involved in.  We stopped at Richland on the way home where I made the rounds in the Social Services area where I caught the girls up on our son’s condition and grabbed the Kindle. They gathered pamphlets together when we talked about having a caregiver come in for respite for Bossman and me. “Where’s Davis’ business card? I have his pamphlet… Don’t tell me I’m out of them. Oh! I have one left!” That was Gracie talkin’ there. Then she and I walked down to the PT rooms and said hello to the people that took care of our guy. They were excited to see me and looked for Chris. I explained he’d not been doing well and they were sad. I promised to bring our son up to visit them on a ‘good day’.

Gracie and I left the PT room when she stopped dead in her tracks. (possibly a bad term to use regarding a rehabilitation facility, but what-the-hell) “That’s Davis right in front of us!” She greeted Davis and we explained our need. He explained that his company had just added our area to their care map and he was the person overseeing that area.

He’s getting an email right after I finish this blog.

Thanks God.

 

UPDATE: 04/12/18     Davis came to our home and our respite care will start on Saturday and continue for all playoff hockey games and any other time we are in need. We are all confidant in this man and the company he works for. Thanks again God.