New Year, Old Conflicting Emotions on Life and Loss
Another New Year’s Eve. It was never a big deal for me. I’m not a party girl and Ben was not into partying. I enjoyed finding a new recipe and making a nice dinner and then we would settle in and watch a movie.
Everything changed when Ben was diagnosed with ALS. New Year’s Eve became depressing for us. I would try to hide my tears at midnight, and Ben couldn’t muster enthusiasm. For us, we didn’t look forward to a new year and what it might bring. We wondered if it would be our last new year’s eve together.
There was no way to know that our last New Year’s Eve would be December, 31, 2014. But, how wonderful it is that I can look back now and say that it was a very fun night that reminded us of the romantic, fun, and nutty times that defined our relationship. I ordered matching Mickey Mouse and Friends pajamas for us and even for Disney (from Pajamagram.com) Ben always loved the fireworks at Walt Disney World, and I found a toy that supposedly simulated fireworks, with sound effects and LED light “fireworks” that were activated by a remote control. We played the soundtrack to the “Wishes” Magic Kingdom fireworks show and Ben chose the sequence for our fireworks show while we had our photos scroll on his computer. It was pretty hilarious to pretend we were at the Magic Kingdom as we watched these pretty unconvincing fireworks splash on the wall. There is a brief video below. Don’t think it’s the video quality or the color calibration on your monitor, the fireworks really were that bad! It felt almost magical to laugh and enjoy the evening. And, it touches my heart still, that Ben woke up the next morning smiling and saying that he had so much fun. That silly celebration is now part of my treasure trove of beautiful memories of moments sprinkled with pixie dust. It’s a good lesson to let, or make, good times happen and to cherish happiness and smiles.
Now, New Year’s Eve is a time to reflect. The first year after Ben passed away, I busied myself making a tribute card and featuring “Auld Lang Syne.” It was a positive way to keep Ben with me and keep him in the hearts and minds of others, give myself a purpose, and focus on happy memories as I sorted through our many photos to pick the perfect ones for the card. The second year, I struggled with how to make a card that did not include Ben. It was truly heartbreaking and I didn’t know what felt appropriate. My solution was to include photos that he loved. Last year, I simply had little holiday spirit. I took a picture of Disney but did not even print any out for mailing. I just wasn’t up for it and didn’t want to put on a happy face.
This year has been another setback. Disney is not doing very well. I find myself in the same position I was with Ben- wondering if this is our last New Year’s Eve. I did make a card this year but it was bittersweet because I found myself making the card because I feel like it may very well be our last card. It’s breaking my heart. While some people might find it outrageous that I could put a cat in the same category as Ben, I assure you that Ben would understand, as any animal lover would, and as Ben understood how my family was about our furbabies.
I’m angry, sad, frustrated. I have largely gotten to a good place in my life, balancing past and present and looking to the future with cautious optimism. Watching Disney struggle as her legs weaken and administering all her medications makes me so sad. I promised myself and her that I will not let her be miserable. We aren’t there yet, but I am worried about her. I am trying to balance optimism with realism but I already recognize the anticipation of grief and I’m trying to replace it with love in the present for this little girl who has been through so much with me.I am trying to balance optimism with realism but I already recognize the anticipation of grief and I’m trying to replace it with love in the present. Click To Tweet
So, I’m sitting here tonight not looking forward to the stroke of midnight. But, I will wish Disney a happy new year, hug her tight, and make our time as meaningful and good as possible. I will spoil her even more, if that’s even possible! I will try to remind myself of the good New Year’s Eve that Ben and I shared and of how much I have grown as I’ve come through the worst part of grief. And, I will wish, in my Disney way, that 2019 brings some kind of peace.
I hope that everyone will conjure good memories and good thoughts, and create the most meaningful, if not happy, new year’s eve. I wish you and yours peace in 2019.
January 1, 2019 @ 4:31 am
New Year’s Eve was forever spoiled for me in 2016 when the ICU unit in Santa Rosa called to tell me my mom was there dying and asked me to talk to them regarding her end of life decisions. I spent the entire day, 3,000 miles away in NC talking to the ICU nurse about her wishes, unable to talk to her because she was a quadriplegic who had no one else in the room with her and no way to hold a phone. The nurse was an angel, relaying the message to my mom that I was on the phone talking to them, telling her that I loved her, letting her know I was there, as close as I could be even though it was so far away.
She had been admitted to the hospital three days earlier with pneumonia, which had improved, then worsened with the needed suctioning. By New Year’s Eve, Saturday, she developed sepsis and the ICU wanted to intubate her in order to treat the infection. Mom had reluctantly agreed to my surprise. My dad had been sent home the day before with a bad cold, had fainted sometime overnight and when he came to had called 911 so was now in the ER of the same hospital where mom was staying. My sister, who lived about 3 hours away from them in Ceres, CA was trying to check on him by phone but having trouble getting someone to talk to her due to privacy rules. I finally got a three-way call going when I called the ER and played the “sympathy card” using my practiced Southern sweet voice. I explained to them how sick mom was and her choice for treatment, they understood, dad was on his way home by late afternoon.
In the evening hours the ICU nurse called me back, almost crying, and said mom had changed her mind. She was much sicker, had sepsis in both lungs, and said that “This is stupid,” and she didn’t want any more treatment. She was ready to die. The nurse asked if I could get my dad back to the hospital and my sisters up there as soon as possible, apologizing that I had to do this when I was so far away. I told her I’d have people there shortly and I appreciated her help all day, her understanding and honesty with me. She stayed overtime until she knew dad was on his way back to the hospital to be with mom.
I was able to let my sister know she needed to head up immediately; was able to get my mom’s caregiver to arrange to help my dad back to the hospital within 30 minutes; got a message to my sister in So. Cal. that she needed to begin driving up north. My sister from Ceres was in Santa Rosa with our parents by 11 pm and we’d requested hospice care for them, a nurse brought coffee and sandwiches. My sister used her laptop to play Frank Sinatra music in the room, she let me talk to mom a minute on her cell phone, we both agreed on her removing the nasal cannula that was bugging mom (my sister is a paramedic and it had been hours as nurses waited on “doctor’s orders”). I talked my dad and sister through the night as my mom slowly slipped away, and she passed on New Year’s Day, 2017 around 10 am Pacific Standard Time while we were all on the phone together with her.
Mom was tired here, ready to “go home”, wishing she’d gone as soon as she broke her neck, not understanding how horrible and difficult her life would be after her accident. I’m still glad she’s free of the pain, fear, “body stuck in cement” that she was left with after her fall, but I will always miss my mom, the mom we lost when she fell, the person that died the instant she fell off that bed. It was a horrible loss. I hope she’s my mom again, Gwennie, the person who is positive, encouraging, loving, caring. I really missed her.
I can’t say I like the holidays at all. There’s no joy anymore.
January 1, 2019 @ 3:20 pm
I am so sorry for your loss and for the pain you experienced. It’s always amplified during the holidays. You were a very good daughter and sister and you had a heavy burden from a long distance, so of course you very sharply feel the pain. It took me a while to get past thinking of the holidays sadly- my dad was in the hospital and then a VA hospice during the holidays and I feel like I spent them looking at pretty colored lights and decorations from car and train windows. It was almost surreal to feel the way I did and be looking at such festive displays. This year was the first time in 4 years that I have wanted to be a part of seeing all of the pretty decorations in NYC. Give yourself time to heal. Be open to emotions of any kind. Grief is difficult and nothing can be forced. I hope that one day you will at least look at that time with the knowledge of the loving, caring actions that you took in very stressful and difficult circumstances. Just as I believe that Ben is free from the constraints of ALS and is running and walking and singing and eating, I believe that your mom is also free of the constraints of life after her accident. I wish you peace.