Bucket List

I just found this unfinished blog in my drafts folder from a year and a half ago:

“What do you do when you’ve been told you have 8-12 months to live? If you are smart you live. Really, truly live. Dad has been pretty sad about the idea of not being around much longer. My heart breaks every time I recall him saying “I really regret that I won’t get to see Justin graduate college”. I’m sure there are lots of things he is sad he will miss that  remain unsaid. There are some things he has said he wishes to do “one more time” and I hope I can help make every one of them come true.

I went to a baseball game with Dad. I took him flying, though I don’t think that was really on his list. He hopes to make it to Panama City Beach to go fishing with my cousin, JW. It’s a long trip that would be even longer for him, but I really hope this can happen and I hope I can be there for it.

This may be the hardest year of my life, but I plan to make it the richest year of my life and make every second count when I’m with my father.”

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Fast forward to today:

Did I follow through with my plan and make it the richest year of my life? I think so. I continued to work and spend my weekends off burning up the highway to spend time with him and tried to be there with him for every doctor appointment. When he went into Hospice care I took advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act to assist my mother as a caregiver. Being able to spend that last summer with him was a precious gift I will forever cherish.

We never did make our planned Panama City Beach fishing trip because the beginning of the end happened when that trip was supposed to happen. Planning that trip so far out may be my one regret, but we still made the best of our time together.

Time is precious. Hug your family. Spend time with them every chance you get, because you never know how many more visits you have left.

Live your dash.

A Sad Anniversary.

A year ago today I held my dad tight as he let go of this world.

That sentence is very heavy.

That morning, exactly one year ago, I sat at the breakfast table with my mother and my niece. We talked lightheartedly about the past and the future and listened to music on our iPhones. There was one popular song we played that can be “shagged” to (a South Carolina dance), so my mother and I showed my niece how to shag while listening to Kenny Chesney sing about “American Kids”. Right there in the kitchen we danced our hearts out. I’m sure my dad, who was in the other room, was very aware of our dancing and would have smiled if he had been able to smile in his comatose state.

Shortly after our little dance I had a moment alone with Dad. I played a few songs that expressed my feelings for him. One of them was “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn, and another song was “You Can Let Go” by Crystal Shawanda. That second song ripped my heart out to listen to the lyrics while playing the song in his ear, but it was such a beautiful song and so well suited to our situation at the time. I spent the day sitting by his side, knowing in my heart that it would be my last day with him. We even told the Hospice nurse that she didn’t need to come that day. My son was driving up from Charleston that afternoon. They say when someone is holding on long after they should have passed on that they are waiting for something. We had been telling him we would be ok and he can let go, but he kept holding on. It turned out that he was waiting for the arrival of my son, because it was only about two hours after Justin walked through the door that my dad took his final breath.

The borrowed time we shared has so far been the most precious and meaningful of my life, especially that last summer.

 

Saying goodbye

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Isn’t it interesting how quickly our priorities change when a loved one is sick.

I said goodbye to my best friend and companion this week. There have been some small indications here and there that told us she hasn’t been feeling all that well, but mostly she seemed just fine. She even had a great run on the beach the night before she became sick.

Piper was a birthday gift to me (and my son) in 2003. I have never received a more precious or meaningful gift and I will forever be grateful to the person who gave her to me. In our 12.5 years together, she has comforted, consoled, cheered and entertained me, all the while making me feel like I need to be the best person I can be for her. She was, in so many ways, my soul mate.

This amazing dog and faithful companion has been the most unique creature I have ever met, and having her in my life has been one of my greatest pleasures. I never could have imagined that it would be possible to be so in love with an animal, but that is the only way to describe the depth of my feelings for her. I think she knew it, too, because I constantly smothered her with love. I think anyone who knew me had a good idea of special my relationship with her.

It’s the little things that really set me off. The missing sounds, mostly. Before, there was always a sound of some sort in the house; Clicking nails on the wood floor, the heavy sigh as she plopped down after following me from room to room, “talking” to me when she wanted my attention, and my favorite – the grumbling as she did her full body “rub” on the couch. In the mornings she would click her way to my side of the bed and lean against the bed with her face near mine for her morning ear scratch. Then she would stand there, thumping her tail on the bed. If she slept a little later than me she would come out of the room with slow, sleepy blinks and a low wagging tail as she slowly came to life and shed the sleepy veil. These are the little things that I miss the most. I don’t even want to think about how much I’ll miss her when I swim in the ocean for the first time in 13 years without her. God, I miss her.

While in the waiting room at the emergency vet I met a woman who was there with her 10yo Golden. She was alone. I cannot imagine going through this alone and I am so glad that my husband Ben was in town for this incredibly sad moment. My son, Justin, was also able to be with us as we gave her a last supper double hamburger and to hold her head in our hands as she drifted to sleep, and then took her last breath. There is a hole in my heart that will never be filled, but will be forever occupied by the memories of our time together. I’m sure it will get easier as time goes on, but I can’t imagine that time yet. Right now, I can barely mention her name without sobbing. Leaving her at the animal hospital felt like leaving my 12yo child, and coming home to an empty house was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My house is not a home without her.

Rest in peace, my precious golden friend. You will not be forgotten.

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A year of lasts and a year of firsts

Last year was a painful year of lasts with Dad – last birthday, last Halloween, last Thanksgiving, last birthday for me, last Christmas, a New Year realizing the coming year was going to be incredibly difficult, etc….

I had not considered until recently how this year would be even more painful as we suffer through an agonizing year of firsts without him. So far I have had several moments where I thought to call him, but realized I will never hear his voice on my phone again. His birthday was tough and my birthday and Thanksgiving were tougher, but I fear that none of those compare with the approaching Christmas season. I somehow made it through my birthday & Thanksgiving without having any major breakdown, mostly because we focused on the joy of having my mother here & my son home for a night of celebrating his 21st birthday. It was a much more pleasant weekend than I had been expecting.

Christmas will be a bit lonelier, leaving me much more time for reflection. My mother will be going to Kansas City to spend Christmas with my brother and niece, and my son will be going to Aiken to spend Christmas with his dad. I will be working both the night of Christmas Eve and Christmas night, so we are basically skipping the holiday. I’m not sure this is the best idea, but it’ll be over in 23 days… I just have to hang on till then.

Next year should be milder, save for the anniversaries that are forever etched into my memory. I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about May 1st (May Day) as the beginning of the end. That was when the brain mets made their debut. And EAA AirVenture will forever be tainted with a bit of sorrow, because we found out about the cancer days before I spent a week at Oshkosh last year, and he passed away days after I spent a weekend at Oshkosh this year.

I know I’ll never stop missing him and wishing he could be here to banter with, but I look forward to a time when the pain is a little less sharp.

For crying out loud!

Over the past year I’ve heard countless times from a handful of people words of gratitude for trusting them enough to cry in front of them. What is that? Seriously, I’m a human. Humans cry sometimes. I don’t really try to control who sees me cry. I am who I am and I make no apologies for crying and I don’t ask permission to show emotion. I certainly don’t reserve my tears for special people. My tears are 100% unbiased. It’s not a compliment, folks.

Ok, let’s be honest. It’s really more a matter of me not being strong enough to control it… or being too passionate to suppress emotion. I must admit that I have actually apologized (many times) for crying at work. I have no control. Sometimes I think it’s a positive thing, that I’m just so passionate about life that my emotions spill over. Other times I see it as a negative thing, a weakness. I think that in reality it’s a little bit of both. I have always been a strong and independent person, so crying at inopportune times just makes me feel weak, and I loathe weakness. But I wouldn’t really be me if I hardened my heart, so I’ve no desire to change.

My point is, why do people think life is so hard that they would need to “trust” someone enough to cry in front of them. If you need to cry, just cry, for crying out loud!

Life isn’t really so hard. Be yourself. Live, laugh, love, and try not to take life so seriously. Nobody gets out alive, anyway. And unless you invent some world changing device your life isn’t going to be scrutinized to the point that anyone really cares if you cry in front strangers or not. Just live your life one moment, one day, at a time.

Sending the old man home

With a broken heart and and a tear in my eye, I share the news of the passing of my father, Gregory Allen Patterson. This evening, at 7:32pm, I had the honor of being with my dad as he took his last breath. After a long and exhausting battle with cancer, he died peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by the love of his family.

To know my father was a privilege and a joy. Those who knew him know what an optimistic and gregarious man he was and will not forget the kindness and love he bestowed upon them. The generosity of his spirit was contagious and his sharp wit was infectious. It was rare to leave his presence without your spirits being lifted. Dad was a man of integrity, a man who worked tirelessly to provide for our family, gave selflessly of himself to those who needed a hand and stood firmly by his word, regardless of opposition. My father led by example to show me that we all have the strength to rise above the obstacles we fear the most, that we will find happiness after our deepest heartbreak and that we must forgive even the most cruel offenses if we are to be our best selves.

My father greeted every challenge on his journey through life with determination, resilience, optimism, ingenuity and class. He had a ferocious will to survive, proven many times.

Dad taught me many lessons, but the most important lesson he taught me was one he taught me by example. That lesson is that no matter how deep your struggle, if you put the sake of others in front of your problems then your troubles will be resolved, whether by the passage of time, the generosity of others or the realization that it was never that much of a problem to begin with.

Farewell to the first great love of my life, my mentor, my number one fan, a man who taught me that above all else I should be true to myself, a man who will live in my heart my entire life and a man whom I will love and miss until the end of my days. Goodnight, Daddy.

 

 

If We Weren’t All Crazy We Would Go Insane

Ever feel like all the pieces of your life are floating above your head? Like all you have to do is jump up to grab them and put them in their place? That’s how I feel these days, except the pieces are just out of my reach and my legs are sinking in quicksand.

My husband has a wonderful new business opportunity and I couldn’t be more proud of him or happier for his success, except that my happiness is shadowed by a black cloud that seems to be hanging over my head.

This sounds like I don’t have good things happening, which isn’t true at all. I have quite a few great opportunities going for me and more right around the corner, if I can relax and focus enough to grab them. To name a few: *I’ve been planning and preparing for my commercial check ride for months and I am finally ready to take the practical exam, except that just thinking about the exam makes me see myself failing and in giving up on my dreams because of it, because I don’t think I’m strong enough to survive a failure of that magnitude. *A job I’ve been wanting for over 5 years in the police department where I work will be available for me to apply soon, but I keep digging myself into a hole with someone who I just can’t seem to find an ounce of respect for. *The relationship between my son and me is finally becoming what I’ve always hoped it could be. There are quite a few other things I should be celebrating every day, celebrating them and reaching for these opportunities that are in my sight and there for my taking….

Unfortunately, every single thing that is good in my life is shadowed by the cancer that is eating away at my father’s body and the fact that he doesn’t understand that he can make choices that could cost him or afford him years.

I’m so good at evaluating, understanding and communicating my emotions, so why can’t I stop pushing friends and family away? I hope that when I crawl out of this black hole, and I will, I can repair the damage I’ve done to any relationships I’ve hurt.

I need to go flying, where everything is all about freedom and feeling and living in the moment.

One More Candle and a Trip Around the Sun

I spent a week with my mom and dad last week. We went fly fishing this on Friday, just like we did when I was younger, and we had a blast! When we returned to the house and he took a shower, his hair began falling out from his first round of chemo. He decided not to shave it until Tuesday so that his guests wouldn’t be shocked. It also gave him a few days to prepare himself for the change. This was the lowest point of the weekend

On Saturday we had a 69th birthday party for him. The house had 50 people in it, including a sister from Michigan and a brother and sister-in-law from TX, a friend from Louisiana, a friend from Maryland, and a bunch of local friends, old and new. All of these people came to show my dad how much they love him, and he soaked up every bit of it. A few of these people stayed on until Tuesday, and his sister stayed until today (Friday). There are still 26 cards on his mantle and he enjoyed reading them again and again. He always did enjoy his birthday cards.

When we shaved his head on Tuesday he handled it very well. The shaved head actually suits him very well, though It’s still a shock to see him with his new look.  It helps that he is able to smile about it.

Yesterday the doctor told us that his cancer is actually “Primitive Differential Carcinoma”, not Lung cancer like we thought. I’m not really sure what this means as this is not an easily google-able cancer.

Today Dad had his second dose of chemotherapy. Thinking of this makes me sad because I know he will feel awful next week. Hopefully he will handle it as well as, or better than, his last dose. I’ll be seeing him next weekend, assuming he is feeling well enough and I am healthy.

 

Reality

My dad started chemotherapy yesterday. I thought it was going to be a series of weekly sessions, but it was just the one yesterday. He has another scheduled for October 4th. Before he began the chemo he was feeling like this was a death sentence, now he has a little hope and his spirits are up.

The doctor says his white blood cell count will be at the lowest on Wednesday and he will feel the worst then. So far he hasn’t had any side effects, but it’s only been 24 hours.

 

 

Update on Dad

Pathology reports took longer to come back last week. We were hopeful that we would hear something on Wednesday, but that didn’t happen. The results of the PET scan were posted online on Thursday, but we weren’t able to see a doctor until Friday at 2pm. Unfortunately, the pathologist said the stains that were done did not show markers for the cancer we thought this was, Extensive Small Cell Lung Cancer. We still don’t know what name to put on this cancer. He will hopefully have another CT scan on Tuesday to find which lymph nodes will provide the best samples for another biopsy, then they will schedule a biopsy and we’ll wait again. This next biopsy will be staining to see if this could be Lymphoma. The oncologist is hopeful for Lymphoma because it is more treatable than the small cell lung cancer.

Here are the facts we have so far: he has cancer in his right lung, a tumor on his right lung, the cancer is in his liver and his lymph nodes. What we don’t know: what the primary cancer is that we are dealing with.

This week they will also be installing a port for chemo and bloodwork. We have another appointment with the oncologist Friday morning and I plan to be there for that appointment. I hope we can find some answers so we can start treating this.

On a good note, I had a wonderful visit with him this weekend. I went with him to the last Greenville Drive baseball game on Wednesday night and then I took him flying over Clemson on Thursday. I think it’s important to stay focused on enjoying our time together so he can heal with a peaceful heart. I hope I’m able to stay strong for him.