Time to breath again

It’s been a week since my Dad died…a tough week filled with lots of tears.

But during that week, and the weeks before, I heard from so many people. Today I’m dedicating my blog to all of you.

I wish I could have responded to each person individually, but it has taken every ounce of resolve I have to write the notes I have to send for flowers, food, visits, etc. And I find I’m rewriting many because the ink is blurring from my tears. Of course, tears won’t hurt my keyboard—at least not much.

From you I’ve gotten phone calls and voice mail messages, text messages, private facebook messages, comments on Twitter, my blog and both of my Facebook pages, cards and notes in the mail, and more. I’ve responded to a few, but for the most part I’ve just absorbed and savored them. I assure you I’ve read or listened to each and every one—most multiple times.

I’ve heard from college and high school friends, sorority sisters, former boyfriends, former teachers, relatives on my mom’s side, Hubby’s relatives, friends of friends and so on. During “crunch time,” I had a couple of friends who wanted to Facetime each evening to “see” how I was holding up—not always a good thing.

My friends, thank you so much for keeping my family and me in your thoughts and prayers. I’ve felt your strength and love and it has helped.

Have a happy Thanksgiving. I am so thankful for you.

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~ Kay

Goodbye Daddy

Rest in Peace

 

Joel Gomillion

Dad

January 1, 1935 – November 21, 2013

 

 

 

Memories

Kay and Daddy 1956Easter Sunday

 

Kay Dad BJ AOII

Greg Kay Dad Summer 2007 Daddy Kay and Greg May 2004

 

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I will always love you.

~ Kay

GUEST POST — People Die The Way They Lived

Hubby’s first guest post was so popular, I invited him to give it another shot. Here’s what he had to say:

~ Kay

“People die the way they lived.”

I have heard that said, and have oft repeated it.

Standing by, watching my father-in-law hang on to the last threads of life, I am wondering how this relates to his life. It is curiosity and a desire to facilitate his passing along with my natural tendency to try to control that drives this process.

Is there something left unsaid or undone? Is that relevant to him? He left many things unsaid and undone when he was able.

Is it now that he is leaving that he needs to apologize and say goodbye?  That was not his way in life and he has done that in words.

Is he waiting now to hear himself as the words softly spoken echo in his consciousness? That would be a loving stream to carry him on to the next world.

Is he dreaming that he is alive and his body is just sleeping? If so, may he wake up in a new world where there is no waiting for answers.

Or is his body, strong from carrying huge burdens in life, just not yet ready to give up that job to the power he trusts with his soul?

We are spirits in a skin suit, and he has thick skin.

Until the appointed time, I can only wonder about these questions. When my time comes, I hope that my dying will be like my living–more full and loving because I pondered his.

~ Greg

With the help of angels

One morning, earlier this week, I woke to find my mother watching me sleep. Was I still asleep, still dreaming? She didn’t speak, only smiled and vanished. I think she was really here—here to help Daddy pass over. He’s being pretty stubborn about it.

The last day Daddy was somewhat cognitive his Hospice nurse asked if he knew who I was. First he took my hand and said, “the boss.” My dad’s pretty sharp and his wit has gotten him out of many situations—probably gotten him into even more.

Then, he turned his clear blue eyes toward me and announced in a strong voice, “Audrey Kay Gomillion Jones Elam.” Wow! My heart melted because he’d been going in and out. We weren’t sure how much he was really “with” us.

Then the nurse asked if he knew the lady at the end of his bed. It was his wife. He stared at her and hesitated. Finally, he slowly said, “That’s my…that’s my beautiful…that’s my beautiful….wife.” Whew, he got it. But then he continued, “Betty Ruth Smith Gomillion.” Oops! That’s my mom—not his wife of 35 plus years.

In light of waking up to Mother’s spirit, I think perhaps she was indeed in Daddy’s room and he did see her. It was an awkward moment for the rest of us to say the least. While everyone tried to overcome the faux pas no one thought to look around to see if they saw or felt the presence of Mother or anyone else.

Since I’ve now encountered her, I think he probably did see her. In the future, I’ll be watching more carefully.

Come back, Mom. Bring reinforcements. His spirit needs help passing over.

~Kay

GUEST POST — What is Love?

Hubby is my rock. Always has been. I suspect he always will be. Not surprisingly, he has been amazing during the almost two weeks we’ve been in Florala waiting for my father to die. He’s anticipated my needs before I knew I had them. He’s held me, let me cry, talked with me for hours at a time, let me rant and rave–all without a single complaint. He left his job to come with me (he can somewhat work remotely). He’s kept my spirits up, kept me focused, and helped me remember just how important these last days with a parent are. We lost his mom this time last year, so he knows what this process is like. She spent three months in Hospice, but lived only an hour from us so we could visit her much more easily. Her death was last December and we are still grieving her, but here he is supporting me with all he’s got.

Today, he said he’d like to do a guest post on my blog. Since he seldom reads my blog (unless I ask him to or someone mentions it to him) this caught me somewhat by surprise. But he’s spent the last two weeks with me pretty much 24-7 and I’ve done several posts which I’ve pushed out to Facebook. I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback–in person, by e-mail, private message, Facebook messages, and posts on the blog so there has been buzz. He’s actually a better writer than I am (damn it). He writes poetry, songs, and short stories.

I am therefore thrilled to present Hubby’s first guest post on my blog.

~ Kay

 

What is love?

I have tried in the years of my life to find a definition of love that fits all occasions.

Many times what I thought was love was really just need or lust—and there was never enough. Sometimes it seemed like love was like an eye floater which was always there but rare to come into focus and hard to hold. The anatomy of my human eye only let me get a glimpse now and again.

The limitations of my human understanding apply like that to love.

However, these past 10 days I have been privileged to see love through new lenses, and it doesn’t look like what is in the movies.

It is not the doe eyed embrace, but the reflection of a dying husband in the weary and teary eyes of his wife who has spent every waking hour caring for his physical body laying helpless in a hospital bed.

It is not the grandiose ring that is envied by friends but the steady supply of colostomy bags, absorbent materials and lotions tenderly applied despite the smells and groans.

It is not the happily ever after sailing off into the sunset, but the memories of happy times, better times when he was a loving father and his daughters were forever special.

It is not the clever courting double entendre, but the kind words and looks that are shared by fatigued and grieving people who come from different backgrounds and beliefs.

So how do I know these gestures and languages are of love?

I see the peace that is created by people in a cauldron of waiting in anticipated anguish…and, it is enough.

~Greg

Picking up the pieces in a broken family

My parents divorced when I was in high school.  Another woman was involved. To my father’s credit he waited until I had been out of college a couple of years before he married her though I learned this week the affair had gone on for many years before they were married–years while he was married to my mother.  Daddy’s wife had her own family: a son older than me, and two younger daughters.

Because my sister and I were older, we were never really integrated into his new family. Had we been invited, I doubt we would have accepted due to loyalty to our mom. We already had a family.

Through the years, especially after our Mother’s death, Sis and I have been around Daddy’s wife’s family some, but there was always a line of demarcation between her family and his girls. There were just too many differences.

Since Daddy’s illness, we’ve all tried to come together in harmony for Daddy’s sake, but it hasn’t been easy. Now he is dying in a hospital bed in the living room of his home.

We can visit him there—but it isn’t our home. Our stepmother and her family belong there. It is their home. They have been his primary caregivers. They’ve done an excellent job. We would have been willing to help but have been kept on the outside looking in.

We’ve talked about it; tried to work through it; but in the end, they have a routine while my sister and I are just visitors.

While Daddy was still conscious, he got lots of company so our private time with him was limited. He didn’t like a commotion, so we kept our visits pretty brief. Our accommodations are only five minutes away so we could go two or three times a day. But I worried about him when I wasn’t there. Could I be helping? Would my presence be comforting to him?

He’s now lost consciousness and the end is near…very near.

It’s difficult dealing with the dynamics of a blended family in the best of times. Add the stress of losing a parent (spouse, step-parent) and it is amplified. There are countless occasions for patience, tolerance, understanding and forgiveness — all growth opportunities, but for me it is physically and emotionally draining. Add the stress from physical inactivity. I can’t sleep, I don’t want to eat. and I cry…a lot. It’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.

~Kay

A Room With A View

Before I started elementary school, my parents purchased a house on East Fifth Avenue in Florala across a side street from the high school. Their logic—my sister and I wouldn’t need cars to drive to high school; we could walk. A few years later the high school was relocated across town and a hospital built in its place. So much for planning! But that was my childhood home for 12+ years. It was where my mother lived until her stroke.

When Hubby and I came to town last week and realized Daddy was so near the end of his life, we decided not to return to Nashville unless he vastly improved which isn’t likely. We called my sister in Seattle who made arrangements to fly down immediately. I had a friend pack a suit for Greg, some clothes for me and Fed Ex them to us here.

Long-time family friends offered us accommodations, but Hubby and I wanted to stay with my sister and her partner so we’d have a place to decompress in private. There is a local B&B which features a house, cabins and I’m not sure what else sprinkled all around town. The owner graciously offered us use of the entire house for as long as we needed it. She moved her other reservations to different sites. Now, realize Florala isn’t that big and there aren’t that many options, so this was a real find. Our hostess has brought food for both here and Daddy’s house, and treated us to a pound cake fresh from the oven. It WAS yummy.

The cool thing about the guesthouse is that it is also on East Fifth Avenue, the same side of the road (north) as my childhood home. The bedroom I’m sleeping in is in the same location as my old room; the window is on the same wall although the door and closet placements aren’t the same. The furniture arrangement is different, so it doesn’t have the same feng shui feel, but the sounds from the window are the similar to those decades ago. I’ve rested well here. It’s comfortable.

Lying in bed my fifth or sixth night here, I realized this is the most continuous nights I’ve spent in Florala since the late 70’s. Wow! Yet, after all those years it still feels the same. It still feels like home.

Out the front door we can see Florala’s beautiful Lake Jackson, lovely any time of year. We are near downtown so we can walk anywhere we want to go – pharmacy, restaurants, grocery store, florists, limited shopping.

It’s a peaceful place to relax and wait when we aren’t at Daddy’s bedside.

A lot of commotion bothers Daddy, so we are limiting our visits to a couple a day and when the Hospice team is on sight. He has an excellent care team in place; we don’t want to interfere with that. We just want to see him, hug, kiss him, and tell him that we love him…every day for the rest of his life.

~Kay

When you must go home again…

If you read my last blog you know I am in the town where I grew up, waiting on the imminent death of my father. It is unbelievably sobering to realize my sister and I are about to become orphans. Granted we are in our 50’s and this could have happened much earlier, but it’s happening now and now is when I am feeling the pain.

Our mom had a stroke back in 1986 that left her physically (and partially mentally) incapacitated. She never went back to her home where she lived alone. We moved her to a facility a few miles from where me (about four hours from her home). She was never thrilled with us “forcing her” to leave her house, her friends, her church…. She  still had the ability to communicate orally and in writing, but she’d lost her reasoning ability. My sister and I felt she had to live close to one of us.

I spent an inordinate amount of time with her during those last six years, but was it quality time? Some was. There were doctors appointments, and errands, lots of errands. I tried to take her on a drive (that didn’t require transferring to and from her wheelchair) at least once a week. But much of it was spent battling why she couldn’t be independent. (Because she couldn’t walk OR navigate her wheelchair; because she couldn’t take care of herself; because she couldn’t make responsible decisions.)

Mom’s hometown friends sent letters and cards and her church kept her up to date on what was going on there. If any of her friends were in the area, they visited. In addition, my friends embraced her and visited her often. She became the darling of the nursing facility, even being crowned “queen” one year. Her sister popped in for a surprise visit that year and wanted to check her out for a couple of days yet mom didn’t want to go because she was “reigning.” (See, I told you she’d lost her reasoning ability).

I was so close to the situation that I lost my ability to be objective. Mother phoned me night and day (sometimes mixing them up) to ask random questions. Often, she drove me nuts. But, she was my mom and I loved her. When it because obvious her health was declining, I prepared myself for her death.

I talked with her about it…I asked what she wanted and she was very specific right down to the 43 hymns she wanted sung at the funeral. (My sister and I decided that meant a selection from…) Mom knew what she wanted to wear in her casket and sent me to shop for it before she died so she could preapprove it. She seemed to view death as a big adventure. For her spiritual preparedness wasn’t enough, she needed to control the other elements as well.

One memory from near the end of her life stands out to me. She’d been in a coma for a couple of days, and I dropped by to check on her. She was sitting in a chair, fully alert, waiting for me. Her first words were, “I want to talk to you.”

I sat down with her and we had a long talk. She told me she was tired, but she was worried about my sister and me—who’d take care of us. We were in our mid-thirties at the time. I assured her we could take care of ourselves, that she didn’t have to worry about us. She apologized for how disruptive she’d been to my life since her stroke and I apologized for not having been more loving. We both cried—a lot. I think we healed a little and maybe got some closure.

She slipped back into her coma that afternoon and died a few days later. But she had to have that conversation before she could die.

When my mother died back in 1992, I was a trooper. The funeral was planned to a tee, thank you notes were promptly written, everything went off without a hitch, except, in hindsight, I kept myself too busy to feel anything and to really grieve my loss.

The grief has come up for me from time to time through the years, most poignantly this time last year when Hubby’s mom was dying. For the three months she was in Hospice care, I spent a lot of time reflecting about my mother and missing her.

Now, my dad is dying and I’ve never felt grief as overwhelming as this. I am heartbroken.

Do I love my father more than my mother? Of course not! I think twenty something years of life and perspective since my mom’s passing has given me the perspective and maturity to really feel his death while I was numb to hers. I also think as I grieve him, I also grieve my mom and the loss of their marriage, the loss of my childhood, of our family unit…all the things his death will represent to me.

When I step back from myself for perspective and look at this in a more universal way, I realize this is the natural order of things. The parent dies first. I have friends who have had to bury a child, a sibling, a spouse…I don’t know how they’ve done it. I think of my friend who died at 54, four years ago and left a teenaged daughter and I wonder how that daughter’s heart held that grief. I look at all of these other situations in an effort to stifle my feelings, but it isn’t working. It’s impossible to compare the degrees of grief.

~ Kay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you

…To ALL our men and women in uniform  who serve and protect our country and to those they leave behind to keep the home fires burning.

 

 

Our son, the Marine, and his beautiful wife

Our son, the Marine, and his beautiful wife

 

 

 

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Our son and grandson on deployment day

Our son and grandson on deployment day

Personal update

If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen that Hubby and I went to Italy for three weeks to celebrate our anniversary in October.

I posted several updates, but few pictures (couldn’t get them to upload right) from this romantic trip we’d been planning for years.

Originally the trip was to have been last year for our tenth anniversary, but Hubby’s mom was put into Hospice care and we didn’t dare leave her.

We had a similar decision to make this year as my father has cancer and was facing a surgery, possibly while we were gone. Up until the day we left, I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to be that far away from him. When he found out we were considering canceling our trip, he insisted we go and have a good time and we did until the last two days when Daddy had surgery.

The procedure lasted five hours, longer than expected, and the cancer had spread. We got home two days after his operation and talked with his doctor on the phone that night. The news was not good. Daddy stayed in the hospital another week and when he went home, he went into Hospice care. We found out as I was driving Hubby to the airport for a week-long business trip to Germany. I was eight hours away from my dad and I was a wreck!

I talked to my dad daily while Hubby was gone (and after he returned).  Finally the end of last week we were able to break away and head to my hometown (Florala, Alabama) to visit Daddy. I knew when I saw him that I probably wouldn’t go home. We didn’t bring “funeral clothes” but that was just a logistical problem. We’ll figure something out. Unless he makes a dramatic change, I’m here until the end.

His hospice nurse agrees, we are looking at days, not weeks. My sister has flown in from Seattle and Daddy’s siblings have all trekked back.

So here I am in the town where I grew up with all the ghosts of my past…trying to stay sane until my daddy passes.

Please keep Daddy and my family in your prayers.

~Kay