Tuesday, December 30, 2008

If It's Tuesday, I Used to Be.....

an optimist.

It really pains me just to write that, because it's just not true anymore. I've done a lot of reflecting in the past couple of days because I joined Facebook. And while it may be the most addicitve thing on the internets EVER, it has allowed me to reconnect with a whole slew of long lost friends from my happier and carefree days in Orlando working at Disney World. Each one asks me what I've been up to, and it's just so hard to explain in a short little response how different life is now.

I was young(er), totally free of most responsibility and full of laughter almost every day. Each obstacle seemed a breeze to overcome. My mantra was always, "It'll all work out." Such feelings can be so fleeting, however. The worst thing that happened to me in those years was a truly disastrous marriage, but it was thankfully short lived and I recovered with the help of all of those friends around me, who were really like a huge family. In fact, I rarely even think about it. If not for the really nice photos, I might even convince myself it was a dream - or nightmare.

After my time at Disney, I married Toad and we kept moving closer to New Orleans to be near my family. We eventually landed in Jackson, Mississippi, where our first child was born. My mom and dad were there to welcome him. All was still right with the world. And then, the tables began to spin rather than turn. Oh, I was still an optimist, but reality began to seep in. My mother - my rock - was diagnosed with cancer. Our daily phone conversations got longer and sadder. I will never forget sitting in my cubicle at work with my crying mother apologizing to me for being sick. I promised her that everything would be ok, because I refused to believe anything else. And, actually, my mother beat cancer. She had surgery and a lung was removed - and her cancer was isolated to that one spot. She needed no chemo and no radiation. It seemed like a miracle - a new lease on life. I got pregnant again, and she was thrilled, although she was really hoping for a girl this time!

However, she was having lots of trouble with atrial fibrillation and the medicine she was taking made her miserable. And miserable to be around. The stress on my dad and siblings was awful. She could no longer drive. Her personality had completely changed at times. But she was still my best friend. I invited Mom, Dad, my sister and nephew to my house for Thanksgiving. I thought it would be easier for her than trying to do it at hers. My brothers also welcomed the chance to not have to go to two dinners. Mom and Dad stayed at a hotel near my house and came over every day. I could tell mom didn't feel good, but Dad said she was often that way. Actually, my mother was dying. By that Saturday she was in the hospital. By Sunday, she was no longer responsive to us. She died that Tuesday. She had sepsis, probably from a urinary tract infection. I was 6 months pregnant. I sat at her side and begged her to come back to me - to wake up and tell me what I should name the baby - to not leave me. And, then I just sang to her. I sang "Be Not Afraid" because I knew she was. And so was I. The last lucid thing she said to me was, "Gee, I hope I get to see the baby." "Of course you'll see him. Don't be silly," I said. I was, after all, an optimist.

My mother's death impacted me in ways I never imagined, and it was months before I could wake up in the morning without my first thought being, "Mom died." And, you can be as optimistic as you like, but when someone is dead, they stay that way no matter how hard you wish or pray it isn't so. Mom's death was also the first in a series of tragedies in our lives that have changed us in ways both good and bad.

My dad did not deal well with my mother's passing. They had been married for 50 years, after all. He began to drink too much and sleep too much. And then, he said he was going to marry her best friend. No, no, I'm going to marry this other person instead. He was so lost, and I was so angry that he wasn't grieving like I thought he should. It took a while, but we made some peace. We decided Toad and the boys and I should move down closer to him. We found a great little house right near Mom and Dad's, quit our jobs and planned to move. We closed on the house on February 11th, 2005. My dad was there because he lent me the downpayment as we hadn't sold the other one. It was a new beginning and he couldn't wait to spend more time with the boys.

The next time I saw my dad was a week later. He had suffered respiratory failure while visiting his fiancee in Lafayette. He was in a coma with brain damage. My brother removed his respirator as we all waited outside. When we came back in, my sister quietly sang Amazing Grace as he drifted off to sleep. And all of a sudden we were all orphans. It was a shock and frankly surreal. A funeral in the same church, with the same priest, and the same mourners, a burial in the same place - just all two years later. I am pretty sure the last full mass I attended was my father's funeral. I felt like God had some explaining to do.

Life went on, albeit in a haze. We moved into Mom and Dad's house for a couple of months to help clear it out while our little house was fixed up and a fence built around it for Daddy's dog. I loved our little house and couldn't wait to move in. The irony never left me, though. Here I was, finally home - and they weren't here. Finally, in May of 2005 we moved in. I was thrilled with my little raised Acadian with the enormous bedrooms and tiny kitchen. The boys loved playing hide and seek because there were so many closets! And, ever the optimist, I thought maybe everything was going to be ok.

When we first heard about Katrina, it was all the way in south Florida. My Ohio born husband was getting worried, and I told him - say it with me now - everything is going to be ok. Well, when the monster enveloped the entire Gulf, we caravaned with my sister to North Louisiana. After all was said and done, Toad found 5 trees on and in the house and the whole thing flooded from a busted pipe in the upstairs bathroom. We never spent another night in that house. We stayed evacuated in Jackson for months until we figured out what to do. Big D started his second kindergarten. I frequently pulled over in random parking lots to cry hysterically. The stress was incredible. My hands shook all the time. A therapist told me I had post traumatic stress disorder. I believed her. Not just my house, but my brother's, and my entire hometown had basically been destroyed. Every couple of days, I would look at Toad, pleading, "Honey, please tell me everything is going to be ok." "It will work out," he'd say.

I cannot describe what it's like to have no idea where you and your family are going to live in a month. To tell your kids they can't have Halloween decorations because "I'm sure we'll be home by Halloween." To not buy Christmas presents because you don't know where you'll be having Christmas. After about 5 months, we bought a second house in Mandeville, Louisiana and moved in 3 years ago tomorrow. I told Toad we would not ring in the new year as evacuees, and we didn't. We eventually hired someone to fix the other house. It took two years and over $100K. We paid two house notes all that time. I sold it 2 weeks after it was listed. I have never seen it again.

In the big scheme of things, I suppose it all worked out. But, my oldest child went to 3 kindergartens and still gets nervous when it rains. He came away with some serious emotional issues that we still deal with today. As in, "Mom, why does everyone I love have to die?" Of course, his other grandfather died this year, and I just waited for him to lose it. He did ok. And, when we evacuated for Gustav, Dubya asked if we would be moving to a new house when we got back.

So, you ask, Kelly, what have you been up to all these years? Well, I have been in the depths of a great grief and come back again. I have fought and clawed myself out of a hole so deep, I was afraid for myself and my family. I have lost a lot of innocence. I have updated homeowner's insurance. I worry much more than before. I often find myself waiting for another shoe to drop for no reason. When I get mail I don't recognize, my stomach drops in anticipation of bad news. When my sister tries 3 or 4 times to call me, I panic until I reach her because I think something's wrong. I am able to miss my parents and love their memory without tears. I have made a stable home for my now 3 children. I know my husband will stand by me through anything. I am no longer an optimist - maybe a realist? I am better - but, you know, for whatever reason, I still can't drive by that damned house?


  1. I cannot even imagine what you have been through. I am so sorry for all of your losses.

  2. Thanks, Janna. I try hard to not let them define me, but they definitely shape who I am now. There are people in the world who have real problems, though, so I try not to dwell. I think the New Year makes me introspective, I guess.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.