Well, it’s been a while, and I figured I should make it a goal – not a resolution, those are too easy to give up on – to try to write more. So before I start on some of the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my brain, I figured I’d provide everyone (well, the 3 people who read my blogs on a regular basis – Hi Dad!) an update on why I’ve been away so long.
Last year was not a great year for me and my family. And I’m not talking about this being something like 2016 where it seemed like a new celebrity was dying every week and then we elected a literal lunatic to run our country. Our 2018 had a body count.
The “year” from hell actually started right after Thanksgiving 2017, when I got back from my dad’s house to discover my beloved cat skinny and lethargic. A trip to the vet found him with a kidney problem and they gave me some food that would make him feel better. It didn’t. He barely touched it, the next morning he fell getting down from his cat tower, and I knew his time was up and I had to have him put down.
Fast forward to a Saturday evening in February 2018. I received a text from my mother asking if she could do a 3-way call with my brother and I. She told us in very clinical, professional terms: “I have good news and bad news. We’ve found your uncle. He’s deceased. He jumped off the George Washington Bridge four years ago.”
Now, a little backstory. Obviously because he killed himself four years ago, he’s been missing for quite some time, so the news that he was dead was something of an inevitability. The “good news” that my mother referred to was the fact that we’d found him, as she’d been looking for her brother for quite some time. We discovered he had been buried in an unmarked grave in New York, so my mother went through the process of having him exhumed and cremated and sent to her so she could spread his ashes. My uncle’s ex-wife and daughter weren’t much help, which I’m pointing out not as criticism but simple fact. When your father/ex-husband puts you through hell with his problems and then disappears, it’s not hard to understand why you’re happy about the closure but may not want to address the logistics.
The problem with that is that my mother was in what we’d later find to be failing health, relying on oxygen to breathe, and dealing with anxiety issues that only exacerbate the problem (something my brother and I didn’t realize until months later when a doctor told us we needed to help convince her to address the anxiety). Throughout the first half of the year she was in and out of the hospital and various rehab facilities, with the occasional stop at home in between. Because she lived 90 miles away from us and was not insistent upon my brother and I coming up on the weekends (and because my brother and I are horrible people who have absolutely zero awareness of our surroundings), we didn’t see just how bad things were getting until she wound up in the ICU in May. But the doctors told us physically she was improving and that her biggest issue was the anxiety, so we got her on some anti-anxiety medication (about 40 years after she should have been on them) and she was able to go back home with some home health care assistance.
Then in June we got another one of her “good news/bad news” phone calls. They had found some blood clots in her lungs, which was causing a lot of her problems, so they could put her on some blood thinners and get things under control (the bad news being, of course, that the clots could go from her lungs to her heart and kill her, so there was that). She was coherent and lucid and it looked like things were turning around.
Then two days later her doctor called and told us we needed to put her on a breathing machine. I was her medical representative and knew she didn’t want to be on a breathing machine permanently, so I asked when she’d come off. The doctor said he didn’t know if she would, I said that wasn’t something she wanted, so he told me it was time for my brother and I to come home.
We knew our mom was sick, we knew she wasn’t going to be around for another 10 years, but we hadn’t considered the end would come so soon. So we came home, said our goodbyes, and watched our mom die.
We would later find out through a couple of her friends that it wasn’t such a huge surprise that she was going so quickly. Apparently her friends would see her going downhill every time they saw her, and she would respond by telling them they were not to call my brother and I.
Finally, in July, my dad had a health scare that required an emergency trip to visit him in Illinois. He’s had pretty constant health problems since he fell and broke his leg a few years back, including one that would be comical if it wasn’t so serious where some workers who were repairing his roof knocked something loose and caused a “small” carbon monoxide leak that affected him more than his wife because he was home 24/7. After some prodding from his wife (my dad’s like most 70-something men when it comes to being stubborn), my dad headed for another hospital trip. On Saturday when my step-mother asked if he’d like for us to head down, he said with everything that had happened with our mom he didn’t want us rushing down unless it was serious. The next morning when she asked the same thing, he said that he wanted us to come down.
Thankfully, after a 10-hour drive my brother and I arrived and did a bit of a, “That’s it?” to each other. He was on oxygen and couldn’t talk (a bit of a deja vu situation with my mother), but he was coherent and could converse via pen and paper. We went back the next morning to see him upright and talkative, and headed home. Thankfully, after all his health woes, he seems to be as well off as we could expect at this point.
There have been other issues. My brother had a relapse of what we’ll call some health issues that resulted in him losing his job. And in September we woke up to text messages from our step-sister saying that she and her family were safe, which led us to discover that her synagogue had been shot up by a madman and 11 of their friends and fellow congregants were dead.
I couldn’t even take solace in sports. For the first time in over 30 years no Detroit team played in a playoff game. The Tigers’ once-in-a-generation superstar was revealed to have a second family and then missed most of the season after tearing his bicep. The Red Wings’ captain retired when his back wouldn’t hold up. We actually found ourselves saying, “At least we have the Lions,” which, if you know anything about sports might be the greatest statement of a cities’ sporting ineptitude short of bringing up Frank Wycheck to someone from Buffalo. Michigan State’s basketball team went from a national title contender to losing in the second round to an inferior Syracuse team (adding insult to injury Michigan wound up in the national championship game). Their football team showed promise early, only to flame out at 7-6, ending the season with one of the most unwatchable bowl games I’ve ever seen.
And just for good measure, Michigan State found themselves embroiled in a sexual assault scandal that cost us our president and our athletic director; cost us $500 million in settlements to survivors; might be the poster child for how not to handle a public relations crisis; and has Penn State looking at us and saying, “Jesus Christ guys, seriously?!?”
There’s been some good to come out of all of this. My cat was 17 and I knew his time was winding down, and I found another cat who’s annoying and a bit of a dummy, but entertaining as hell. We finally have answers about my uncle. My mom is at peace, which is important when I realize that, as someone who always wanted grand kids, she found herself so dismayed by the state of our country that she said to me at one point that she was glad my brother and I didn’t have kids to raise in this world. My dad is doing better for now. My brother is working on himself. My mother’s rather frugal lifestyle has given my brother and I some opportunities we might not have otherwise had.
I’m sorry this post doesn’t have any of my typical witticisms or comedic tendencies. But if there’s a chance you were wondering why I hadn’t written, I hope you can understand that dealing with family health issues, wrapping up an estate, cleaning out and selling a house that hadn’t been cleaned in years, dealing with the fact that our mother didn’t keep us as informed about her health issues as we would’ve liked, and just the general mourning process where you don’t necessarily want to do anything on some nights, I wasn’t necessarily in a spot where I wanted to sit down and write. I’m not promising anything solid for this year, but I’d like to do better.
Here’s to a better 2019. Honestly, it can’t be that tough, can it?