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Monday, April 27, 2009

Irony is a Strange Bedfellow


This is supposed to be a happy day.  Today is my 50th birthday and will hopefully be the day I get my second wind.  But, for the last 25 years I have thought, in the back of my mind, that I would not live to be 50.  Death seemed to knock at the door of my subconscious.  Well, death is knocking at the door, and the call came at 3:00am as we were all sleeping.  Not mine, but my mother-in-law's. 


Geneva and I have had a strange relationship from the beginning.  A relationship that began in my pre-teen years when she worked for my father in politics.  Bob used to come to our house from time-to-time to stuff envelopes for our political party or attend the parties we had at our home that were politically centered.  I never gave Bob a second look during those years, but that is beside the point. 


When Bob and I announced that we were getting married, the day after Christmas 1992, we did so with Bob's Aunt Bernice and Uncle Tommy present in addition to Bob's father, Ken.  We did this strategically, because no woman was good enough for Geneva's son, and we knew she would react.  We could never have guessed how she would react though - although we knew it would not be joyfully. 

KandG2 Bob and I sat on the fireplace hearth and Geneva was in her recliner facing us to our left and Ken was in his recliner to our right, also facing us (facing the fireplace).  When Bob announced that we were getting married, Geneva launched out of her recliner like a bullet and came for my throat screaming "No! No! No!"  She got her hands around my throat and I proceeded to smack her off of me as Ken and everyone else were yelling at her to sit down and shut up.  Bob, being the 6'4" 240 lb bud that he was at the time, picked his mother up, threw her over his shoulders kicking and screaming, and promptly sat her butt back down in the recliner and told her if she got up again he would call the police.  She was having a temper tantrum worse than a child and it was pathetic. 

She began to scream obscenities about my father (who had passed away 12 years prior).  She began to judge me and call me "tramp" and anything else she could wrap her brain around at the time - until Uncle Tommy piped up and said "Geneva, sit down and shut the hell up!  If the daughter of Jesus Christ were to want to marry your son, she wouldn't even be good enough!"  And, with that, Geneva sat down with horns coming from her skull and flames coming from her nostrils.  It was not a pleasant experience.  As it would turn out, Bob and I got married almost 3 weeks later in a lovely, rather private ceremony at our church, and as we turned to walk from the alter, I gave a single red rose to Geneva, who was sitting in the front row looking lovely.  It was my way of extending to her a peace offering.  Peace that would not come until years later, until she developed Alzheimer's disease.


Bob and I have been married now for almost 17 years, and in that time, we have had some hair-raising arguments with Geneva.  Most of them were emotionally driven (by her) but even I understood that that had to do with the fact that she was uneducated (she quit school in 9th grade) and didn't have the tools to control herself or think clearly, logically, intelligently, about certain situations.  She reacted to everything emotionally and argumentatively.

KandG9 We noticed in 2000 that she was having difficultly remembering things and taking care of Ken.  Ken was a severe stroke victim and suffering from many physical and mental challenges of his own, and he needed someone to take care of him - not the other way around.  And so, after months of what was obvious deterioration, we made the difficult decision to move Ken and Geneva in with us just after September 11th - and our already large family of 6 that included our 2 children, my mother who had lived with us for years, and my grandson whom we have raised as our own since he was 2 weeks old, became even larger.  Our house may have been situated on 3 acres, but it was bursting at the seams with only 4 bedrooms - and 4 very small bedrooms at that.  But, we managed.

We managed for 4 years, and a tough 4 years it was too.  During those years, Bob and I remodeled and upgraded his parent's home of 32 years, and we did it all together.  We worked tirelessly to bring it to the point of being able to sell.  It looked beautiful and we sold it within a month of putting it on the market.  Those were different days, though, too. 

In addition, both Geneva and Ken had become incontinent, and caring for their needs became my responsibility - showering them, helping them dress, serving them, coming their hair.  It was exhausting work, but Bob was their only son and I loved him dearly - and I still do.  For Bob I would do anything within my God-given power to care for his parents, and I did, even when it was the most emotionally and physically trying experience for me.  This is not to say that Bob did not help, he did.  Believe me he did.  He also cooked for the family and helped clean and do the laundry which was the size of Mt. Everest.  We shared in the lawn care and cutting 3 acres was a job, but we also cut the grass of several of our neighbor's each week and they were also on 3 acres each.  You try cutting 18 acres each week for a few extra bucks and see how hard it is - especially on your back!  My back was put through hell during those years of all that yard work and landscaping business that Bob and I had on the side.


During that 4 years, my mother had a hysterectomy, I had a hysterectomy, I discovered a lump on the back of my mother's neck that turned out to be lymphoma, Ken broke his hip, Geneva broke her hip, Bob lost his job, I just about lost my mind, Geneva went through numerous stages of not knowing any of us, including her husband of 52 years, and then Ken got pneumonia, but didn't show any symptoms.  Bob even took him to the doctor who said he was clear.  I knew something was wrong.  I even took his picture because I thought I had to and I am glad I did.  I told Bob that we should take his father to the hospital.  It was a Sunday.  Bob said that his father just needed to rest and that his doctor said he'd be fine.  (You'd think after all our years of marriage he would've learned not to argue with me on issues like this) Something in me told me to get Ken to the hospital immediately, and so I called 911 and told Bob, who was out on the tractor, that an ambulance was coming for his father.

KandG12 Ken sat in our front hall and all of us took turns hugging him and kissing him on the cheek and telling him that we loved him.  Ken really liked my mother and they would joke a lot together.  He looked at my mother, Mary, and said "Well, Mary, I guess this is it."  My mom replied "Ol, Ken, you'll be back here before you know it.  You are going to be fine."  He knew otherwise.  He knew.

Bob and I followed the ambulance to the hospital and the rest of the family stayed at home.  They x-rayed Ken's lungs and discovered that not only did he have pneumonia, but that one lung was completely full of fluid and the other was nearly 3/4 full.  Why had the doctor, just the day before, not caught this?  Well, we learned something that day - that when the lungs are full or nearly full, they sound normal.  They don't make noise to indicate that there is fluid in the lungs.  Bet you didn't know that did you?  So, they put him on an aggresive antibiotic, but he had already gone septic.  We prayed.  We waited.  The hospital staff did everything they could for him. 

By 2am he looked like he was turning the corner and may recover.  We prayed some more. I looked at Bob and said "He's going to be fine, sweetheart, he'll be coming home and joking with all of us again in no time."  Bob, with tears in his eyes, looked at me and said "Hon, we haven't reached the witching hour yet." "Huh? What's the witching hour?" I asked.  "That's the hour that most people pass away.  The hour is 4am."  I had never heard of that.  I said "No way. Dad is going to be fine."  Bob just looked at me sadly and said "Let's hope so." 

KandG14 At 3:45am Ken's vital signs started to deteriorate.  He had been in a coma for about an hour or so. The doctors called us back into Ken's room.  The doctor said that we should stay with him and that they had done all they could.  It was his time.  Bob stood on one side and I on the other, and we both held one of his hands.  We told him we loved him.  We kissed him.  And then we watched him take his last breath at 4:00am.  Irony is a strange bedfellow don't you think?  Even more ironic is that they didn't have a cemetary plot, but my family had several.  My father-in-law is buried in the same cemetary with my father, my uncle, my paternal grandparents, and my paternal great-grandparents.  He is toe-to-toe with my family. Ironic isn't it?

Geneva had to go into a nursing home shortly thereafter for Alzheimer's patients.  As if fighting her when she had her faculties wasn't tough enough, fighting her with Alzheimer's was next to impossible. 

Before we put her in a nursing home, though, Bob and I felt we needed to make a decision.  An important decision.  You see, we both had grown up in Maryland.  Maryland was our home, but living there had become increasingly too expensive.  We were being taxed out of our own home you might say.  So, while the iron was hot and the market was perfect for selling our home, we had our home re-painted, and we fixed it up beautifully, and we sold it.  But, not before we decided where we would like to move.  And where we moved was to somewhere we had never been before - Charlotte, North Carolina.

KandG15 It is beautiful here, and the cost of living was far less than in Maryland.  We liked the people (most of them anyway) and we liked the architecture.  We liked the weather and the mild seasons.  We liked the schools (if we decided to put our children in a public school) and the colleges are some of the best in the country.  And so, shortly after Ken passed away in 2005, we found a place to call home in South Charlotte and we found a nice place for Geneva as well.  A place where she would be comfortable and cared for, and close by.

So here we are.  It is now a little after 5:00am and we are awaiting a call from the hospital.  Geneva fell earlier in the evening and was complaining that her hip hurt.  She has had a few tumbles in the last several months and we think they may be mini strokes, but we aren't sure.  We have kept close to the phone and they have kept us updated of her condition.  Shortly after 3:00am we received a call from the hospital.  It doesn't look good.  Geneva has a UTI and it has gone septic.  They are treating it aggressively and are doing all they can but it doesn't look good.  We are praying.  Bob is holding up stoically at the moment.

We all got up and got dressed, prepared to go to the hospital.  They were transferring her to another hospital with better facilities to treat her condition and an intensive care unit that had space.  And so we wait.

TKandG5oday is my birthday, and if you have been reading this blog for any time at all, you may recall that I have had a suspicion that I would not live to be 50.  Today, at 3:13 this afternoon, I will be 50.  I have had this nagging feeling since I was in my mid-twenties that I would see death's door before 50.  Much of my family have a short lifespan.  Here's hoping that this will change.  Still, death knocks at the door.  It is not my death, but rather, it is at the door of my mother-in-law, Geneva.  Maybe it is her time to go home.  To be with her dear husband Ken.

 I was nervous this weekend when I went out shopping with my daughter to get her clothes.  I had my eye on every side street looking for someone to run a stop sign or for someone to cross over into my lane.  Believe me I was overly cautious this weekend when I went out.  Plus, having been sick with the flu all this past week didn't help and I'm still not completely over it. I wasn't taking any chances.  So, when the call came at 3:00am that Geneva had taken a turn for the worst, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Irony is a strange bedfellow.

Oh my God, please don't let her die on my birthday.  On my 50th birthday.  Lord, please let her pull through this ordeal.

I'll let you know.


P.S.  If you get a chance, pop on over to my daughter, Sarah's website The Pink Life and read her post dedicated to me.  It is her special way of wishing me a happy birthday.  Naturally, it made me cry, but I sure did love the music at the end!

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