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Diarist A28 Day 21

ELDM diary 1.1.2023 

December decided to be cruel–a sudden death of a beloved Aunt, a nasty virus that held our household hostage for two weeks and yet another year of the Accursed Ice-Skating Plans. By the last few days, though, things had calmed–December seemed ready to go home drunk, pass out in bed with its shoes on and call it a year.  

But then January sauntered up and said, “hold my champagne…” 

Honestly, the start of January 1st seemed fine. Everyone in the house being lazy, sleeping in. Nothing remarkable. The way a holiday should commence. We had spent NYE at the home of close friends enjoying a huge seafood boil. We came home before midnight so we could send off 2022 in the usual way, with our son and his friend banging pots and pans in the front yard and screaming at the top of their lungs. Their choice of words as they screamed this particular new year would later warrant an apology to the neighbors.  

There is of course a thing I knew was coming, and it came that afternoon on the 1st. It’s the question that I dread near the end of every holiday break: “How many more days until school starts again?’” “Tomorrow is your last day of break” Then commenced the dramatic middle schooler woe-is-me harangue. My husband interjected with a sympathetic “aw buddy, all good things must come to an end” and our child responded sardonically “that’s why school never ends”.  

Thirteen hours and 45 minutes into 2023 which was also just approximately 15 minutes before we were to be at a “Friendsmas” party, comes the text message: “Please call me ASAP”. It was my youngest sister. I sat down before I returned the call because the tone was not typical. And I had accurately predicted what her first words were when I called her…” are you sitting down?”  

She’s sobbing. She’s flustered and rambling and not getting to the point. “They told me not to tell you because they don’t want you to worry…but I can’t do that”  

It’s our mom. She’s been taken to the ER, she’s got a pulmonary embolism—clots in both lungs. The doctor requested a life-line flight to Indy (my family lives about two hours south of the city) but the helicopter cannot fly due to the fog/low ceiling. They are ordering an ambulance and surgery will begin as soon as she arrives to that hospital.  

I promise my sister that I won’t call Dad…for a while at least, if she keeps me in the loop. There is a history with my family of not-telling me things. I know full well why and when that began. Disrupt a funeral by screaming like a banshee and then running out the door like a distraught Edward Gorey character just ONE TIME, and you will probably find that no one wants to tell you anything that’s potentially disturbing ever again. My family lovingly protects me like a Roman phalanx. Shields up, close ranks, tight formation. But my sister is the traitor in their midst. She’s feeling both guilt and obligation. And I am grateful that she knows I am not so fragile as perhaps I once had been all those years ago.  

Over the phone, I can hear her rummaging through my parent’s house while she rants “I grew up here! How can I not know where things are??” Me, the one that worries everyone with my past hysteria, is talking her down in my calmest voice like I’m 911 dispatch.  And while she’s telling me she’s trying to remember the detailed instructions regarding cat feeding (that having been given by our mother from the ER between labored breaths), she stops and says “oh…there’s a shrimp ring in the fridge. I really want to eat some right now. What is wrong with me?!”  

Like any self-respecting sibling, I encourage her to stuff her mouth with the shrimp. No one is going to ground you and of course I have always fully supported you doing things I would not do. Do it. All good things must come to and end, and that shrimp ring is either being eaten now or it’s headed for the trash when this is all over. You have an obligation to eat this shrimp ring, sister.  

I told her to keep me posted on the situation—both mom and shrimp ring.  

I had barely hung up with my sister when my Dad called. Unlike the chaos in her words and in the sounds of her fumbling through the house, his are calm. His voice is steady and pleasant, and I can hear he is driving. He goes right into the need-to-knows, explains he’s making the drive to Indy and when there is a break, I ask him “Dad, are you okay?” At first, he says “yeah, I’m okay” but then he pauses and says “No. No, I am not okay’. This is a man who is an eternal optimist, and so light-hearted that I have never heard him say he was anything but at the least “okay”. The gravity begins to hit. He tells me something that I have never heard, because, as he starts “you were just a child then…”.  

My mom, the one being raced to the hospital, is not my “real mother.”  I was 12 when my birth mother died. And my Dad begins to share with me, after all these years, a story had not been told. Both wives having the same symptoms, being taken to the same ER. His worst moment and his worst fear coming back to haunt him. Speaking to the situation with my birth mother, he says…that night as I was wheeling her into the ER she said, “I am not coming home this time”.  And she was right. This is haunting my dad, and it hits me in the gut.  

My Dad disobeyed the unspoken orders, dropped his shield, and broke rank. So I pick up mine, and hold it over him, and tell him that this is not going to end that way. Because I cannot bear to think that it will. The three of us—my dad, my younger sister and I, we have a shared trauma. A young wife and mother taken too soon. A thing we just do not talk about. But now, in the face of losing the other mother, in an eerily similar way, we cannot avoid it.  

But, there’s one last thing he says before he gets off the phone. “I am so hungry. I’ve only had two peanut butter sandwiches today. I have a shrimp ring I was planning to eat tonight, but I suppose that I will have to throw that out when I get back.” I don’t say a word.  

I have to tell my husband and son what’s happening. The phalanx of “not-telling” used to upset me, but I am a parent now and so I understand it a little better. I don’t want to tell my own child about his grandmother, rock a boat that is sailing on otherwise calm water, but I know I need to. The look on his face when I do, tells me why the “not-telling” happens. He wants to know how “this all will end” for his grandmother and I am honest in the seriousness of the situation. This bad thing, it will come to an end, just like all good things must, and we will accept the outcome because we have no choice but to do so. I want him to hold his own shield, though I will put mine over it when I need to.  

There’s a house full of friends waiting for us across the street. I take a moment to collect myself. We pack up a cookie tray, alcohol, gifts and oddly enough a shrimp ring and head across the street where 10 of our best friends are gathered. The house is loud and most everyone is crammed into the kitchen fussing over the food they have brought. It smells like Sunday dinner at grandma’s house. And it sounds like family—a warm embracing bright cacophony. Multiple conversations going on at once, and folks weaving in and out of them—interruptions which are welcomed, laughter… someone fretting over setting up the gifts. And the kids playing Just Dance in the other room on an old Wii. Its so reminiscent of my close family growing up. We were together often, but as the children grew up and the matriarchs and patriarchs passed away, those times ended. All good must things come to an end.  

The adults gather around the large dining table, after we fill out plates and we all suddenly pause to hear a familiar song from the game the kids are playing. Rick Astley. We have been inadvertently Rick Rolled at the dinner table.   

It’s a lot like my family, besides the noise and laughter. I pretend to not notice the hushed side conversations—my husband making sure folks new what was going on, them being concerned but not prying or asking me. Just being present and there for when I decide to tell them myself.  

We all sit in our regular places in the expansive living room. This is the last Christmas here. The new year brings change—our friend and neighbor is getting married and she will be selling the house and moving. We have all been collectively plotting to make sure the house is bought by someone we know. A lot of holidays and birthdays and even my baby shower have been there in the last 12 years. But all good things come to an end.  

We open gifts. Our son puts on three shirts and four pairs of socks he’s gotten as gifts over his pajamas. Good things that will come to an end when the holes start showing.  

My sister calls again during gift giving and she apologizes through tears—she hears the happy sounds of my friends’ opening gifts and doesn’t want to ruin my good time. I am in between a place where good things are happening, and good things may be ending. I’m holding a shield again, and my arms are still steady. She tells me she spoke to mom, and my sister is convinced she’s not going to make it. Something in the way mom was talking. I try to convince her that we just cannot know. Hold steady.  

The party is over, and the food is divided up for leftovers, the wrapping paper shoved into trash bags and the house begins to clear. All good things come to and end.  

I linger with my friend, neighbor and bonus sister and I talk a while about my mom’s situation. She is a nurse, and so she understands better than most the situation and is able to walk me through the surgery and the possible causes and side effects. She doesn’t mince words. It’s a great comfort, as my mom is in surgery, to have someone walk me through what is happening. It feels like I am in the room, have some knowledge and thus a false sense of control.  

I finally walk home with my depleted cookie tray at around 10:30pm. I stay up and cry intermittently.  

At 12:30 my dad gives me and my siblings an update. The bad thing has come to an end. A good end. She is alert and doing well.  

All good things come to an end. Winter breaks, shrimp rings, neighbors, holidays, parties, people. In the same way that all bad things come to an end. All things end. My arms are tired, and my tears are done and so I put down my shield and go to bed.  

Jan 2  


My mother lovingly has thrown my father out of the hospital, directed him home and warned us all that we are not to come. It’s a patented mom-move. She’s a one-woman phalanx. And despite being grown adults, and worried, we all concede to her wishes. She’s part worried about her family and not inconveniencing them, and part worried that we will all cause a fuss with the medical team. She’s a retired surgical nurse, and she’s had her share of well-meaning, frantic families who present as assholes during an awful time. She’s protecting her care givers, too.  

My sister is in regular contact with her, the designated sole communicator, and relays updates to me. “She hasn’t had a meal since she’s got there last night and its 4pm. She says she doesn’t want to bother anyone because she knows they are busy and doing the best they can” And really her deepest desire right now is to have a Dr. Pepper.  

My sister is angry and distressed about this but not taking action. I just call the hospital.  

That’s the thing about siblings, at least with me and my younger sister–we counterbalance each other—it’s helped us survive. If you freak out, I will be the calm. If I don’t know what to do, you will find a solution. I would not eat that shrimp ring, but I will encourage you to do so. You don’t want to give the nurses station the what-for? I’m already dialing the phone.  

Through all my messaging with family, I am managing another health issue my own the house. My husband is prepping for his own medical procedure tomorrow. There is a lot of meds to give him, and a lot of timing to go with them. He can’t eat and I keep having to remind him of that. I am trying to make this the least miserable as it can be for him. I push back my worry and focus on being his nurse for the day.  

Paging Dr. Pepper.  

So I called the hospital where my mom is in ICU. On hold for minutes, waiting patiently because I know my mother would say, the nurses are too busy. I finally hang up and call again and get through to the nurse’s station and I stumble through this apologetic “I know you are busy and I so appreciate you, but my mom hasn’t eaten and she’s too nice to tell someone. And she’s too nice to let me come see her and thinks its too far for me to drive. Oh, and can anyone score a Dr Pepper?” She says she will see what she can do, but she doesn’t think the hospital’s vending machines have it. And, most importantly my mother just got dinner.  

I try the online gift shop. I try finding Instacart. Nothing. My dad calls it perseverance, but it’s just me being plain stubborn—this woman will have a Dr Pepper before the night is over. Even if I must make a trip out of town, take it to the nurse’s station and slip away before my mom knows I’ve been there.   

Then I remember my friend works in ER at that hospital. I text her. She’s not working tonight and confirms that there is no vending machine in that hospital that has Dr. Pepper. But she has two in the breakroom fridge, and if I give her the room number, and confirm that its permissible according to the dietary restrictions, she can make one call and my mom will have Dr. Pepper.  

And so she did.  

My mother is beyond delighted and texts me long segments of gratitude, about the state of healthcare, about her sympathy for the nurses who are caring for her well, despite the obscene hours and expectations laid upon them. He confesses that she, in her days as a nurse, would not have been able to keep up with the demands and pace that are put upon them. This is her first time since my sister’s birth that she has been hospitalized 51 years ago, and she’s seeing what those who came after her in her profession are being subject to, and it breaks her heart. Also she is on drugs. There are lots of emojis.  

In between, those texts, I am mixing prescribed drinks and meds for my spouse. Every fifteen minutes he is to take them. My son and I work hard to sneak our meals and snacks so as not to make him hungry.  

The last dose of liquid meds and Gatorade. Dr Pepper has been delivered. I am tired and anxious. Tomorrow I will be sitting in a waiting room, then a recovery room at one hospital, and waiting for updates from another. We prepare ourselves, my son, my husband and I, for whatever the outcome of his surgery might be. Good or bad endings. My family—the one I grew up with—they can try close ranks to protect me, but with my own little family, we choose to strategize together.