As I was sitting on the bus from New York, going back home near Philly, I was trying to make up a story for my daughters… How was i going to tell them the diagnosis changed and now, on top of everything else I had cancer! They didn’t need to know this type of cancer didn’t respond to many treatments and surgery was the best option, watching for a new growth and cutting it out! No, they just needed to know it wasn’t a big deal since treatments weren’t required…
The girls listened to my story which I tried to make short and funny, how the diagnosis changed, how thank God I asked for the pathology report…
I was losing their attention and still could not just say it, the new diagnosis is cancer!
I called it a sarcoma and it needed no further treatments, just check ups.
“What is a sarcoma?” Eva asked and I could no longer avoid her clear, to the point question.
I explained, and smiled and tried to make fun of it and how rare it was, my luck, born on a 13th…
The girls stared at me and I couldn’t tell what they thought, if they understood, if they cared at all
or if they cared too much.
One thing was sure, the change in diagnosis didn’t change our daily lives. I was still making appointments to re-start work in May, the girls still attended their daily activities and seeing their friends more and more often. This new home didn’t feel like a home to them and I knew it, but it was a roof and that was all it mattered.
It was in mid-April when I woke up with excruciating pain in my right hand and wrist. I looked at my own hand but it wasn’t mine anymore, not the hand I used to have. This hand was swollen and painful and I could not move it. I called the doctor. A nurse practitioner had an available appointment, the same one who two years prior didn’t believe me I was bit by ticks and refused to give me antibiotics. She told me I just had osteoarthritis, I must have slept on my hand and triggered the pain and the swelling. It will go away.
Two weeks later, the hand felt worse. It was now May and I could not go back to work! I had to cancel all appointments and eventually closed my beloved Natural Therapies all together because the swelling would not go away! After endless visits to numerous doctors from orthopedic to rheumatologists to infectious disease specialists, it was decided to have a biopsy. Nobody knew what it was and why my right hand suddenly, literally overnight had become my enemy when for so many years it was my friend and my bread-winner. Why was my hand mad at me? Perhaps I worked it too hard? It wanted to rest… oh hand, please, I argued with it, this is not a good time to let me down!
By the end of the summer, the business was closed, the hand was still swollen and painful and I became officially disabled! My friends were still helping me financially and my pension money was diminishing rapidly. Kevin was still not paying child-support and now Eva turned 18 in February, so he would have had to pay for one child only, but he wasn’t. He didn’t call Eva on her 18th Birthday and that triggered a wave of anger from both girls. The combination of taking us off his insurance policy without telling us, the lack of care for the girls and the ignoring of my surgery and now disabilities and loss of business, made the children to stop speaking with him.
I kept telling them he was their father, yes, he wasn’t perfect, but would Eva please let me invite him to her High School graduation. She opposed me, but I still invited him. My defiance of her wishes got me in trouble. Didn’t I know I had to respect one’s wishes? Natalie was so angry when she saw him at the church were the graduation ceremony took place, asked me for the car keys and went to wait in the car. He looked happy and proud of his daughter, especially that word had come she had been accepted at Harvard. Yes, he was very proud of her, but she barely spoke to him, and the whole attempt to reconcile our children with him was a total disaster!
“I know he really loves you, he just doesn’t know how to show it, ” I kept arguing, but my arguments were defeated by reality:
“If he loved us, he’d call on our birthdays, he’d have us over to his house every other week like all other fathers, he’d pay child support and not drop us off his insurance and not even call after your surgery!”
They were right, he was still not paying child support and because now the Courts were keeping track of it we had a Court date in August.
Kevin looked changed, his eyes were sparkly and he was sweating but the room was air-conditioned…
I looked at his skin and the scabs I had noticed before had gotten worse. They looked like sores, like he picked at his skin…
The Judge was a woman and she asked him to explain why he wasn’t paying the child-support ordered by the courts.
“I don’t have a job! I have no money!”
“We are required to take away your driver-licence until you start paying…”
What, I thought, they were going to take away his driver license? How was he going to go out on interviews if they took away his license?
“Wait, wait!” I intervened. “Is there any other way to not take his license? If he doesn’t have a job can i renounce the child-support owed by him until he gets a job?””
” The law does not allow you to give it up completely, but it can be reduced to $25 a month from the almost $900 that he is legally obligated to pay now.
“Okay, then can I agree to reduce the payment to $25 a month on condition he will seek counseling to get a job and he’ll then keep his driver’s license, right?”
The Judge confirmed, and a woman who was going to mee with him and take care of his job counseling joined our meeting.
The new contract was drafted, and the Judge placed it in front of him to be signed.
“I am not signing anything! It’s a trap!”
He pushed the pen in the middle of the desk. He was red-faced and agitated.
The Judge looked at me, and then at him:
“Sir, your ex-wife is trying to help you keep your license and find a job. She agreed to payments of $25 a month. This is minimum allowed by law.”
He looked furious and hurt and picked the pen:
“Fine, fine, I’ll sign! I guess I have no choice!.”
Then, he was escorted out to speak with the jobcounselor, and I was left behind in the room. He didn’t say good-bye, or thank you. He just left. He ignored me one more time.:
The Judge extended her hand and shook mine:
“Good luck . ” She said and I left the Courts.
Good luck… yes, I needed it, and a ray of joy landed in our household when in October we drove
Eva to her dorm at Harvard.
We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast, and as the girls were getting ready to go shopping and I was resting, my cell rang.
“Yes, this is she…”
“I am Helen, Jody’s sister.”
“Oh, yes, I remember, she spoke often of you. How is she?
“They found her remains today!” Helen managed to say in between sobs.
“Whose remains? What are you talking about? Jody and I lost touch a few years back after she moved to Florida. Yes, we were very close, she was our Maid of Honor.”
“You don’t know then… She moved from Florida to Beloxi and she was in a wheel chair. When Katrina hit, she and her husband made it to a shelter but the shelter didn’t allow booze so they went back home and… they both died during Katrina but they couldn’t find her remains… until today.”
It was October 27…
Helen wanted to know if I was her Power of Attorney, if I had her will. I told her I didn’t and still crying we hand up.
I had to tell Kevin. No matter how difficult, after all she was our Maid of Honor and she died such a tragic death.
I dialed his number. It went streight to voice…
The box must be full, I thought.
Back in Philly, we tried to establish a new routine, Natalie and I. It was hard. I could sense she was slipping away from me… what was it? Boys? New school? New friends? Her sister leaving home? The divorce, yes I felt guilty for the divorce, but I really, really didn’t have a choice. it was between having a roof over our heads and homeless.
Jody’s death during Katrina brought back memories of my father’s alcoholism, the fear that Kevin was using again, after I observed his odd behavior at the Court and above all the thought that oh, my daughters could have inherited it.
I started to attend Al Anon meetings. No, I didn’t live with active alcoholism but my whole life had been shattered by substance abuse, so I felt I would be in the right place. Perhaps someone was going to tell me what to do. What was right, what was wrong, what was appropriate. Were my children at risk and could I protect them? I banned alcohol from our home for nine years. I had not personally touched alcohol to sat a good example. Don’t they say, children do what they see? Yes, I didn’t drink. I did not just said!
Soon I were to find out in Al Anon nobody was going to tell me what to do. I was to find out and do it myself, because what was good for me was not good for someone else.
I was stunned at first to see that people just told their stories, the group politely choired: “Thanks for sharing,” and the group moved to the next “share.”
The miracle of these meetings was that it provided focused listening and if one wanted to learn each story had a message and the many messages put together many times gave one the answer they sought.
Soon I was hooked on Al Anon meetings, and the one I attended every Friday night was a few blocks from Kevin’s new house.
That Friday night, November 4th, I was driving back from a meeting. I was stopped at a light which, if I would have turned right, would have taken me to his house. I was thinking of him, of Jody’s tragic death of…
My telephone rang. It was Kevin’s younger brother. he never called me…
i pulled on a side street and answered the call.
“he is dead! he killed himself! His brother said and his voice seemed to come from far away, from a cave.
“Who is dead?
I thought somehow he found out about Jody’s tragic death, but he said “he is dead!”
“Kevin, he shot himself in the head! My brother is dead!”
My body shivered and I couldn’t move my jaws.
“Oh… I don’t believe it, are you sure?”
“The police found him this afternoon. A neighbor saw the cats trying to get out from the sun porch and he wasn’t picking up his mail, so they called the Police.”
“When did he die, can they tell? A macabre thought went through my mind, may be when i called to tell him about Jody’s death he was already dead!
“They weren’t sure but somewhere at the end of october… the 27 or the 28th. The official day is today, November 4th.”
“I must tell the girls. How do I tell the girls? Do you think i should wait until tomorrow or wake them up?”
“Their father died wake them up!”
Of course, their father died, what was i thinking… but I just wanted to protect my children from yet another shock!
“Yes, I will wake them up, Eva came for the weekend, she is here too.”
Eva was not home, she was at a party. I called and asked her to come home. It was urgent. Natalie was already asleep.
We were all sitting on the couch in the living room.
They were slightly aggravated. Natalie because I woke her up, Eva because I brought her home from a ffun party.
“I… don’t know how to say this, the only way is to just say it, your father is dead! He killed himself, your uncle just called me.”
The girls ran into each other’s arms and became one big ball of pain and confusion. They were crying, howling sounds of sorrow and disbelieve, their bodies which became one was trembling.
I just stood there and watched speechless…
and now what? How could so many tragedies happen in one short year and what was the long-term impact on my children? It was not enough they we almost lost our home, we divorced, their mother was diagnosed with cancer, became disabled and lost her business, but now their father, at which they were both angry for good reasons, killed himself!
Hello God! And YOU are where?????