Category Archives: Bostonian
Just before Christmas I lost my final grandparent. And from it, I’ve realized that my grandparents have given me the gift of understanding death and grieving.
My dad’s mother, Marilyn, was the grandparent I was closest to, yet the death I understood the least. She died when I was in my early 20’s and living in Madison. When I’d heard she was in the hospital and dying I came home to see her, very unprepared. In the hospital she was connected to a breathing tube and I remember thinking she looked like a fish gasping for air. She would make eye contact and I would look away, not wanting to recognize her. I missed my opportunity to say goodbye to her because I was scared and it’s one of the few regrets I still live with in life.
A few years later my mom’s father, Joe, died. This death was the one that taught me death can sometimes be a relief, even when you don’t want that person to be gone. We had mentally lost him to Alzheimer’s and my family and grandmother were doing their best to care for him, even as he was becoming more violent and more confused. His death was much more spiritual- with the family, and some non-believers, witnessing the spirits of my elders coming to get him in his final moments. The family did an Irish funeral after the services, drinking and telling stories, showing you can mourn and celebrate a life. When I mourned his death I realized I was also mourning my late grandmother’s death, which I had pushed down in either denial or inexperience in mourning.
Three years ago I experienced my dad’s father’s death, Roger. I felt like I had the opportunity to do the most “right” things with his death in flying home from Boston the second I learned he was in the hospital and might have had a stroke. My husband was back in SF celebrating his company’s IPO (unaware what was happening), so I scooped up my only child at the time and headed to Madison. I still remember my mother ushering me over to his side when he woke up and asking him if he’d seen who came to visit him from Boston. He looked over, saw my face, and said my name; he knew I was there. I talked to him for a short bit before he lost consciousness. It’s a memory I’ll forever carry with me.
The thing I realized most in his death is you can continue to live without wanting to live. The family couldn’t reach an agreement on letting him go, so he lived for a while longer while connected to life support. However, I received the most beautiful of gifts during this time of getting closure on my late grandmother’s death. My two year old son was getting visits from “Grandpa in the Hospital” and “Grandma from the Hospital”. Through pictures we were able to learn “Grandma from the Hospital” was my late grandmother, Marilyn. HR was having live conversations with them and telling me things he never would have been able to know (like what I used to call them or that they had a toy closet with no trains only tractors). They followed us home to Boston and later to Japan. I was in Japan for work with my husband and son when I learned my grandfather had finally passed. My mother gave me the play by play of his final, special moments. I was stuck in Japan with only a $5,000/person option to get us to WI for the funeral, which pained me tremendously. I didn’t have to tell my son “Grandpa in the hospital” was gone as he told me that evening they weren’t going to visit him anymore since they were going “to the other side”, having no idea what that meant. It helped me realize that while I was angry at myself for not saying goodbye to my grandmother, she wasn’t.
A few weeks ago I lost my final grandparent, my mom’s mother, Mary. Her death taught me you can choose to die. My grandmother had outlived my late grandfather and her second husband. The family had decided months before that she was unsafe to drive and her final shred of independence, living by herself, was starting to wane. She had an aneurism in her stomach that was operable, but she was done. She was very clear on her wishes and spent her final days on pain meds and surrounded by family saying their final goodbyes. She argued with my mom about my mom cutting short her trip in Boston, seeing us, and told her to stay put. In the end, she still waited until my mom’s trip was over and my Aunt Karen was able to come back to WI. That evening she left the earth on her terms, which was the most appropriate way for her.
My parents are now orphans and, while grieving their own losses, have done their best throughout this to teach us kids about life, death, and grieving, One day we’ll be forced to use this newfound “skill set” to say goodbye to them and prepare our own children. Hopefully not for a very long time, though.
We decided to finally bite the bullet and start trying for a third kid. To both of our amazement, we got pregnant immediately in-spite of my advanced maternal age (38). We found out on July 31st and at first it didn’t feel real. As the weeks and baby grew, so did our excitement. We had our first ultrasound at 7 or 8 weeks, complete with the little blob pictures to show there’s indeed a baby. We told my parents when we went back to Wisconsin to visit and his parents the following weekend. Shortly after that we told our boys, who were just as excited, even though our due date fell on HR’s birthday. Somehow at 5 he already didn’t mind sharing, especially at the prospect of having a younger sister, which he was vocal about wanting.
My morning sickness was considerably worse this time around, but thankfully I didn’t have the bloating or exhaustion (or maybe I just didn’t have time for it). However, I never felt easy about this baby, even getting into a fight with Randy a couple weeks ago for telling all his friends we were expecting. I knew I wasn’t going to feel good about the pregnancy until we had done the ultrasound and genetic testing that takes place between weeks 10-13.
This Wednesday we had our 12+ week ultrasound and genetic testing. The baby was perfectly still in the ultrasound, which I thought was odd, yet slightly peaceful. The technician took some measurements quickly and then left the room and allowed me to use the restroom after guzzling the 24 oz of water to prep for it. After waiting a bit for the exam to continue and sensing something was wrong, a doctor came in. We learned the baby was only measuring 9 weeks and didn’t have a heartbeat. It could be that it died at 9 weeks or had recently and started decomposing.
The image of the perfectly still baby was ingrained in my brain. I couldn’t breath. I had to rip the mask off my face, but it didn’t seem to help me catch my breath. When I felt myself fainting I leapt to the floor to avoid falling off the examining table.
The doctor said we had three options – I could wait to see if it miscarried on its own, take some medicine to try to force the miscarriage, or have a D&C surgery to have it removed. None of these were things I wanted. I looked to Randy for guidance, but he told me it was my decision.
How was this possible? My body still acted like it was pregnant, complete with a perfect little bump, not knowing there was nothing to protect in there anymore. I wanted it to be a mistake.
We decided to do the D&C surgery, in part because they could do it the next morning, I’d be put out for it, and I could go on with my grieving without having to see the miscarriage. I waited around anxiously yesterday morning to find out when they could fit me in. We got the call at 10 and headed into the hospital where we’d delivered AL 2.5 years ago. I felt stronger than the day before until I caught a glimpse of my bump when I was changing into my hospital gown.
The nurses were great and all knew why I was there. When I woke I learned they had to keep me under longer to stop some unexpected hemorrhaging. I was again thankful I was asleep for all of it. Randy was doing school pickup and dealing with the kids since the nanny had to leave early. It was kind of peaceful to be alone at the hospital with just a nurse checking in on me from time to time. My bump was already gone, but the mesh underwear caught me by surprise as a reminder of what I’d worn the last two times I brought healthy babies home from the hospital.
I know grief can be tricky as I find myself flipping from being grateful for our two kids and thankful we didn’t get the genetic results back and be faced with making a decision on terminating our baby’s life…yet questioning “why me?” Am I being punished for being selfish and wanting more kids after having two beautiful, healthy ones? Was it the stress of being a working mom or waiting so late in life to have another?
I know the real answer is — this just happens. And miscarriages happen all the time, but people don’t come out and talk about it to realize how normal it is.
But sometimes that logic is still overshadowed by the grief and self-pity that are still living in my now vacant body.
Do children really love their parents as much as their parents love them? It seems impossible that such a little soul could love that much. Harrison’s new, adorable thing is telling me that he loves me most. To which I always respond, “Impossible”. Because, to me it seems impossible that he could ever understand the depths at which I love him.
I carried him in me for 9 months, loving him when he became a heartbeat and daydreamed about what he’d look like. I loved him even more when he was born and I had to witness him in pain as they pricked his foot to test for jaundice. I vowed then to always protect him from unnecessary pain. I loved him more when I learned all his crying and pain was caused by my dairy consumption and his allergy…and this Wisconsinite promptly gave up my favorite food group because my love for him was far greater. I have taken him places to show him the world. I have introduced him to all my favorite people to share the love I feel from them with him. I moved him across the country to be with his grandparents and create lifelong memories with them. I read him books and sing him songs every night. I listen to every adorable story he tells me. I play with him to let his imagination expand. I’m quick to pick him up every time he falls or stubs his toes because his pain is my pain. How could he possibly think he loves me more than my heart that explodes with joy and happiness at the thought of him?
Because he heard my heartbeat every day for 9 months. Because when he was being pricked for jaundice at two days old, he looked to me for comfort. Because when he was being poisoned by the dairy in my breast milk, it was also my breast milk that temporarily relieved the pain. Because as we have traveled the world and he has met new people, he has never been afraid because I’m there with him and he trusts me. Because I am one of his best friends, his safe place, and his mother. Because I have shown him love every day of his life and taught him how to love so fiercely.
Maybe it’s not impossible for him to love me as much as I love him, but I still love him most.
I love my job and one of the things I love about it is the perks. In September, when I was 6 months pregnant, I learned we were offering 6 months of paid time off to parents. One other perk nested in there was that my company was offering memberships to a company called Cleo, which offers pregnancy and postpartum guidance through experts. Always wanting to take advantage of free things, I scrolled through the list of topics and one that resonated with me was advice on how to prepare big siblings for little siblings. It’s a topic that was weighing heavily on me as I realized how much we were going to be disrupting Harrison’s world, so I set up time with an expert. The call was a 1:1 with a psychologist and was really great. I got a lot of great nuggets out of the conversation and shared them with my husband, who was on Harrison duty during the call. I’d read before that often when you’re in labor your contractions will slow down when you get to the hospital due to the bright lights. I was surprised when the psychologist also mentioned that contractions typically slow when you leave the house and leave your child/ren behind. Knowing how fast and furious my contractions were last time, I didn’t think much of it.
One complicated thing about this pregnancy has been nailing down a due date and I’ve been given two: December 30th and January 6th. I’ve always gone by the earlier one, knowing I could fall back to the later one when convenient (like when flying late in the pregnancy or preventing being induced).
My sister arrived late last Wednesday (26th) with her daughter to help take care of Harrison when the time came and I went into labor. Right on cue, last Friday I had my “39/40 week” checkup and learned, to the shock of my doctor, I was 5 cm dilated and unlikely to still be pregnant by the end of the weekend. That afternoon at my non-stress test I learned I was also having consistent contractions, every 10 minutes. It helped me recognize the pressure of these early contractions to now know what to look for. The nurse flagged a doctor for review and after waiting for her blessing to leave, in spite of having contractions, I promised to come back if the contractions got worse or my water broke, given they didn’t think it would be a long labor. These contractions continued into the evening on Friday, again Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon and evening. Each night we’d prep Harrison that mommy and daddy might not be there when he woke up, but Aunt Kari and Brielle would be while we were at the hospital having the baby. You could visibly tell that stressed him out as he’d lay awake, not falling asleep, and would call for us in the middle of the night. And, shortly after bedtime is when the contractions would stop.
I didn’t have any contractions Monday and Tuesday and that started to worry me. Combined with the fact that my sister and her daughter had been here for almost a week with no action, I was starting to stress. We had booked them on a one-way ticket so they could go home after the baby was born, but hadn’t thought about what happened if the baby was overdue. I finally asked my sister the fateful question of when she’d told her work she’d be back and she told me Monday, the 6th.
Thankfully the contractions came back Wednesday (2nd), but ended again early into the evening. Desperate and having tried most old wives tales to naturally induce labor, I scheduled an acupuncture session to promote labor on Thursday. Upon leaving the acupuncturist, the contractions started again. That evening I also had a “40/41 week” doctor’s appointment. I had inquired to his nurse earlier in the day to see if they could do a membrane sweep to attempt to promote labor. She said the doctor typically wouldn’t as he liked to see things progress naturally, but would check with him. She later called back and confirmed that the doctor would not, but was happy to talk to me about it. I couldn’t get an appointment with any other doctor for the week, so I had no choice but to keep my appointment. At the appointment the doctor was shocked when he realized I was 6-7 cm dilated, admitting he’d assumed the doctor from the previous week was inaccurate. He also confirmed the baby had dropped and was in station 0, at my pelvis. He gave me a membrane sweep and offered induction options for me to think about since he couldn’t give me an answer on why this baby hadn’t been born yet. He was as puzzled as me.
By the time I got home the contractions were coming pretty fast and furious along with cramping. I found myself unable to sit and wanting to do the familiar pacing. I was convinced the baby was coming and had my husband verify he had everything ready for the hospital. In pain, it was time to read Harrison his bedtime stories, which I decided I wanted to muster through for his sake. By the time I finished and said goodnight to Harrison, the contractions stopped. Disappointed, I went to bed, hoping maybe I could will the contractions to start up again. It didn’t work.
Now here we are two days before my later due date, with my sister leaving in less than 48 hours to fly back to Wisconsin and not having held her new niece or nephew. The guilt and stress are destroying me along with the panic of what we do for childcare for Harrison if the baby comes after my sister leaves. In the midst of all these emotions, I can’t decide if this baby is just being extremely inconsiderate or if my love for Harrison is preventing by body from letting him/her enter this world.
I write you this letter as your last Christmas as our only child. And, while I look forward to meeting this new addition to our family, it also breaks my heart to think about how much is about to change in your world that you won’t be able to understand right now.
You have brought your dad and I so much joy in just 2.5 years. You have taught us the meaning of unconditional love with your innocence and constant affection. You have expanded what we believed to be our capacity to love and taught us how to be selfless people. You have even taught us how to love each other differently than we did before. You made us a family and you made us parents. And, you did all of this by just being yourself. You’re a very special child and are absolutely perfect.
Since you were born we’ve realized that you alone are enough for us. There is nothing else we could ask for in this world right now. However, we felt it was unfair to keep you to ourselves and not give you a sibling to grow up with. Because of this, we decided to give you the gift of a brother or sister. We keep telling you that this is your baby and I hope you know s/he is. They are going to be your best friend, your new family, and your constant tie to your father and me. And while things will be hard in the beginning and we’ll all be making sacrifices, know that this child is going to look to you with the love and adoration we do. And, we hope you shower him/her the same love and affection you show us daily.
Harrison, we love you with all our hearts and look forward to the memories you guys will make together.
Mom and Dad
Saturday is my grandfather’s funeral and unfortunately I’m not going to be there to say my final goodbye to him. It especially saddens me because it’s not just goodbye to him, but goodbye to family traditions that he and my late grandmother worked hard to uphold.
I feel like there were four Roger Rech’s in this world – the life before kids, the life with kids, the life with grandkids, and the life without my grandmother.
I obviously never knew the Roger Rech before kids, but I like to think that life started when he met my grandmother in high school. He and Grandma would talk lightly of it, especially when they would talk about my great Aunt Kate that they went to high school with. It wasn’t until after my grandmother died that Grandpa would open up about stories of his time in the military and missing my grandmother. At one time he shared with me a picture of my young grandmother sitting on a car. While it would seem like an ordinary picture, you could see the picture was folded and he explained that he kept it in his wallet and it was what kept him going during his military time while he missed my Grandmother. He said Grandma was proud of the car she had purchased for him with my Great Grandma Lela and both were waiting for him to return. You could hear the love and longing for my grandmother as he told those stories.
The second Roger Rech was the father of seven children. Again, this time was before me. Interestingly, this was also not a time he shared stories of, but my parents and aunts and uncles did. I knew a few things were important to him, which he instilled in his children: agriculture, hard work, saving, family, and education. I believe he’s proud of how his children have helped to instill these in their children.
The third was Grandpa Rech and the one I got to grow up with. During this time the household duties were still split with Grandma spending much of the time in the house with Grandpa outside on the farm. Grandpa would come into the house every day to eat and in the afternoons to nap on the living room floor. When he came in he’d always ask about our sewing projects and want an update on school. On rainy or winter days I realized his knowledge capacity when I’d find him reading the Encyclopedias for fun or crushing a game of Jeopardy on the computer. For fun, he’d also come out for a game of basketball or sledding with us and seemed ageless. Given his passion for farming, he taught the next generations what he knew and loved spending time on the farm with the grandkids. He’d find a common interest with each of us, whether baling hay or introducing us to the new farm kittens. He’d also let us keep our animals there after we moved off the farm and give us regular updates on how they were doing. This was my favorite part because it gave me an excuse to talk to Grandpa and make conversation, jealous of the farming time my brothers got to spend with him.
The last Roger Rech was the one without my grandmother. This stage started before we lost my grandmother, but as she was sick. I remember watching both their patience as she taught him how to cook and bake his favorite recipes, knowing one day it would be a skill he would need. This is when Grandpa also showed his tender side and started taking over all the traditions that Grandma had upheld for the family. He’d send a card with a heartfelt letter for every birthday, telling a story about what was happening on the farm. He even did this the day my son, Harrison, was born, talking about what was happening and his wish to teach Harrison how to drive the farm truck as he got older. In Grandpa’s mind, he was always going to be there and I think we all believed the same. Every time I would come home to Wisconsin to visit, Grandpa always prioritized the time to come into town to visit and get updates on our lives. He was never too busy and nothing was ever more important.
I think that’s why it pains me to not be there for the funeral. My life got too busy and his time ended before I could make it back and show my respects. I hope that as he looks down on my life, he feels pride in how I raise my children with the same values he taught his children and grandchildren. Our family was blessed to know him and further blessed to learn from him. His legacy will live on in all of us.
Last Friday was the 15 year anniversary of my paternal Grandmother’s death. When I was a teenager I grew very close with her. She taught me how to sew and I would spend long days at her house creating clothing masterpieces under her guidance. When I was 16, I worked with her to make my prom dress and matching men’s vest and bow tie. By this point, she taught me how to make up my own patterns and we created it into what I wanted it to look like (pure late 90’s style). I remember how proud she was when she came to my prom and heard the compliments on my dress. I then took it to our annual sewing competition and my dress got picked to be modeled at our State Fair. She was beaming. She also worked at our local school as a lunch lady, so I got to see her daily and would always walk to the cafeteria when I knew she was on a break with the other ladies. One of my teachers told me I was the apple of her eye. I got engaged to my prom date and we said we were going to get married on October 23, 2004. Grandma and I promised we’d make my wedding dress.
When I was 18 I left my parent’s home and eventually moved to Madison. I also left that old prom date behind and found other love interests. During this time my relationship with my grandmother changed and grew more distant. In my mind, I was too busy to come back to my hometown all the time or take the time to see her. She had also been battling colon cancer and I found myself avoiding her even more as I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t emotionally prepared to see her that way. When I was 20 I learned he had developed pneumonia and went to my hometown hospital to see her. My mom and sister knew what was happening and told me she was dying. I remember seeing her and feeling like she was a stranger – she looked like an old lady gasping for air, not my light-hearted grandmother. I was uncomfortable being at the hospital and chose to take a previously planned long weekend trip to Detroit to watch a Packers/Lions game. We were on our way home when I got the call to say she died and learned her funeral would be on my old wedding date, with a groom and a wedding dress that never happened.
I never really mourned her at the funeral or after she died. I was too busy with my life and this lady wasn’t my grandmother.
In April of 2007, I learned my maternal grandfather was dying. However, this death was different. I was still living in Madison and they had moved him home to live out his final days. No one thought or wanted to call me in his final hours, probably assuming I would flake out again like I had with my Grandmother. When I learned of his death, it was less about the death and more about what happened as he died. He had such a humble presence, yet a giant presence when he left us. Everyone in the house could feel the energy when he left. Even the dog knew. After he died it was very evident to the family that he was still with us. The first Christmas, my mother hosted, and every person that took pictures had the ghost orbs in the pictures. In big events following his death, people would still find the orbs as an indication that he was still with us. When my niece had to be delivered very premature, my aunt called us out of the blue to tell us of her psychic friend told her that Grandpa was there for my mom that day because she was going through a rough time. We then told my Aunt about our new niece and how they had to deliver her early. He was there. He knew. And, he made it known to us.
Instead of being grateful for this gift of my grandfather’s continued presence I found myself just getting angrier. Where was my grandmother? Why wasn’t she here? My grandfather was a great man, but so was my grandmother. Why did he possess this ability to still communicate with us, but she didn’t? Did she not want to? Was it because of how I had behaved in her final years and days?
On September 20th of this year, my four-year wedding anniversary, I learned my paternal grandfather had been found unconscious and was rushed to the hospital. Even though I was now living 1,000 miles away, I rushed to pick up my son and get on a flight to see him in Madison, not knowing what to expect as an outcome. My KISA was unfortunately in San Francisco for a work trip, celebrating his company’s IPO, so I had no choice but to take my son with me. Thankfully, if my son has access to YouTube the rest of the world doesn’t seem to exist. While I spent hours at the hospital, so did my son. Apparently, during this time my son still noticed what was going on. He knew it was Grandpa and he knew that he had a tube in his mouth helping him breathe or an “owie” in two-year-old terms. He also noticed the “yucky water” draining from him in the various tubes. Through the ventilator, now tracheotomy, and pacemaker my grandfather is still physically with us. We get message updates on his health, that seems to change day by day and week by week.
Out of the blue on Sunday, my son started talking about my grandpa again – a month later. This morning when he woke up he declared he wanted to go see Grandpa in the hospital. He is obviously on his mind. At the same time, I’m receiving text updates on a bacteria my grandfather has caught that is antibiotic resistant. This evening, my KISA and I were in the dining room and we hear my son having a conversation with someone. Granted, he’s still young for pretend, so we weren’t really sure what was going on or who he was talking to. My KISA went in and my son shared he was talking to Grandma and Grandpa at the hospital with owies. As I hear this, I’m trying to hold it together. I go in and say, “You’re talking to Grandma and Grandpa?” to which he replies, “They’re over there”, pointing to the corner. I lost my composure and immediately texted my mom to share this with her. She asked if I had any pictures of my late grandmother to show Harrison to see if he would know who she was. I pulled out a picture from my graduation with my grandmother and I and asked if he knew who was in the picture. He pointed to me and said, “Mommy” and then pointed to my late grandmother and said, “Grandma”. I asked if that was who he was talking to earlier and he got really excited and said, “YES!”. We then went through some other pictures and he saw a picture of my mother and referred to her as “Other Grandma”.
I learned my grandfather was alone at the hospital at the time and my mother did some quick thinking and called to check in on him. The nurse confirmed was still there and had just smiled at her. He’s still with us, but somehow my son believes he was physically here with us in Boston along with my late grandmother. I believe him too. And, I’m grateful my grandmother has finally found us.