Thursday, March 19, 2009

Confessions - Part Four: the CONCLUSION

Aha - I hope you are as happy to see that this is the Conclusion, as I am! As previously cautioned, if you are STARTING with this post, you might well be advised to try Part One, then Part Two, then Part Three (yawn...) before commencing with this one. But it's your choice. Some of the posts ramble on a bit.

Okay, back to where I left off. We were muddling along in an existence that most marriages grow into - expected behavior, roles one or the other will assume (cook, gardener), etc. Nothing more, nothing less. I really, really tried to boost his ego, boost his self confidence. But nothing seemed to work. And at various times over the years, he would resume drinking on the sly.

The last time he did this was shortly after the holidays, in late 2007 or early 2008. He was heading to bed one night and we had had a heated discussion about something. And with his slurred reply to me, it was obvious that he was intoxicated. And I said so to him: "You're drunk!" and he didn't even try to deny it. I couldn't see how that was accomplished (idiot that I was), since we had had one glass of wine apiece that night. However, his alcohol intake was (once again) supplemented with vodka. He would use the empty water bottles that so many of us tote around, and would refill them with vodka - I never did find out if it was straight vodka or if it was cut with something such as water. He established this behavior because he really WOULD go through a lot of water during lawn-care season. Houston's summers are brutal, even when you go outside to start mowing as early as possible. So he would go through several bottles of water while mowing and edging, and to (supposedly) save some money, he would refill the bottles from the 'fridge.

This last time, he dashed upstairs and willingly showed me his stash. Mostly in one of the upstairs bedrooms, behind the daybed in that room. It was a heavy bed and one that he didn't have much worry that I would suddenly want to move. Perfect place. He brought the bottles downstairs and poured them out, then once again begged me not to leave him. Truly, I know that at this time (and at the other times) he did intend to not drink - or to at least not drink on the sly. So once again, he swore off drinking.

About a week before he died, he had had some trouble with his digestive tract and with constipation. So he called his gastro doc's office and was given the suggestion of some over-the-counter stuff he could take, which should give him some relief. He bought it, and took it as the label dictated, once a day. After a few days, he called the doc's office again, and one of the staff (not sure if this was a nurse or not) told him he could take it 3 times a day. Well - it worked. WAY TOO WELL. Now he was having the opposite problem and couldn't keep a thing in his digestive tract. I was trying to get him to eat gentle things, but to KEEP EATING. I had yogurt in the house, beef broth, soda crackers. The night before he died, I heated up some broth and he drank some of that, ate a few crackers, finished a small yogurt, and said, "I'm going back to bed." He had decided to sleep upstairs (the master br's on the first floor) so he wouldn't wake me during the night when he had to make a mad dash for the restroom.

I got up and got ready for work on the morning of May 15th. I didn't go upstairs and wake him up to say goodbye, not knowing how well he had slept during the night. My car pool driver showed up about 6:10 and I was off to work.

Several times that morning, I tried to arouse him by telephone. Finally, around 9 or 10 am, he called me. He asked if I had tried to call him a couple of times and I said I had. Then he explained that he had slept extremely poorly that night and was just now heading off to sleep. He said that HE would call ME back, and I abided by that. By the time my workday ended and my car pool driver was headed home, I was troubled by the fact that he had not called.

S, the driver, dropped me off in my driveway, and I let myself in the front door. I had placed a can of soup and some soda crackers on the kitchen counter, and I could see that they hadn't been touched. Furthermore, the nightlight was still on in the kitchen (it was dark when I left for work just after 6 am). Now I was beginning to worry.

I headed for the stairs, got to the midpoint where the landing was, rounded that corner... and there he was. From the position of his body, it was obvious that he was headed UPstairs. And also (as though I have any knowledge of these things) it appeared that he did not try to break his fall. His head was at an awkward angle and up against the rails that form the outside of the staircasing. I touched his bare foot and it was cold to the touch. I remember saying softly, "Oh, Greg." I did try to move his head, which I could not do at all.

Boy - retelling this stuff is much harder than all my previous Confessions. Bear with me...

I knew, I really, really knew. But I called 911 anyway and explained my situation. They asked me if anyone else was in the house with me and I said no. "How about a neighbor?", someone asked. I had heard my neighbor across the street mowing or edging, and carried the phone (portable) outside with me and crossed over to talk with him. He immediately returned with me to the house and also observed Greg's body and said, "It doesn't look good." We waited for emergency medical personnel and also the local cops came. After answering what seemed like endless questions, they wanted me to leave the house. But before that, someone stated the obvious - that he was, in fact, dead. Neighbor S (who had been doing the lawn care) and his wife A very kindly took me in, and also accepted my friends who showed up after I had phoned them. We had NO family in this town, in this state, at all. Thank God for friends and neighbors that you can phone and lean on, eh? I think I was in dumb, barely functioning shock at this point. Could not keep any saliva in my mouth at all. S and A were so gracious, bringing me warm tea and rounding up some sandwich stuff and fruit for my friends and myself. Sandwiches were hopeless for me - the bread just gummed up in my dry mouth.

I had my cell phone with me, but it was nearly dead. I called my sister, my poor, poor sister who had lost her own husband about 6 years before that. She screamed into the phone: "NO! NO! It's not fair." And I guess it never is. I never asked her just what she meant by that statement. Maybe that it wasn't fair that I was the third female (after my sis and my mom) to be widowed in our family? Maybe that he was young and it was unexpected? But she was a lifeline to me at that time. She had been there, had walked in these shoes. And all of this at age 52, with a daughter still at home who was a senior in high school.

My sis started the ball rolling for me. She phoned my Hill Country friends, D and T, who immediately cancelled a flight they had been very close to driving to catch, and they came in later that night to help with anything, everything. Sis needed to know when the services were (so she and her kids could plan their flights), so I just had to pin down my pastor and get something scheduled as quickly as possible. By Saturday, the services were scheduled (and I was woefully unprepared to choose music - I should have been more innovative, I guess, since he had been a musician, but I just went with the tried and true), and Saturday evening saw my sis and her kids arriving. D and T moved back to the hotel that night, and I had a housefull of family. Blood, as the saying goes, is thicker than water. Well, not sure what that means, exactly, but blood (family) is certainly there when you need and want them. Thank God.

For those wondering: I do not, to this day, know the cause of Greg's death. He had Hep C, certainly, but was nowhere CLOSE to dying from it. The wonderful county judge who was the acting coroner (we do not have our own morgue in this county - autopsies are performed, by contract, in Galveston Country) decided that Hep C (which he would not have known about, if I hadn't shared that info with the EMTs on the scene) would suffice as cause of death. Yes, I know that more detail about COD would not give Greg back to me. But I wanted to know. My feeling is that he died from some kind of massive medical event - aneurism, heart attack - or else from extremely low electrolytes which made him dizzy enough to pass out. He had eaten very little for several days preceding this. But. As I said, it wouldn't bring him back. It was probably one of the hardest things for me to accept. I wanted answers and there were none. I do know that his gastro doc does not believe that the COD was Hep C. He phoned me on Sunday following Greg's death. "Mrs. Snyder?" he said. "When they phoned me, I thought they had the wrong name." So.

As with other women who fell into this situation unexpectedly (and even with those whose spouses were known to be dying), I was in a fog for weeks, maybe months. I was hospitalized a week after his death, overnight. Turns out that not eating has a bad impact on your system, particularly if your magnesium levels sink. Raised hell with my heart rate. My #2 nephew had stayed for a few days after the rest of the family had to return, and he blessedly drove me to the hospital. Thank God for T - a truly wonderful nephew. He also spoke at the service and I remember a few things that he said, especially that Greg "made my Aunt Jessi laugh". That brought a laugh from those at the service - and from me, too. He and I had some heart-to-heart talks. It is so nice to really get to know the family as adults. My sis, A, and her late hubby, did a great job raising 3 kids who are wonderful people. I like them all, and I know that not all can say that about their kids or nephews/nieces.

I apologize for the length of these postings. For a long time, I have wanted to share this stuff without sounding like "poor me". I will probably add to this last one a bit, or maybe even do an addendum (damn, there is that old business language that I am SO ready to leave behind). Thanks for bearing with me.


txmomx6 said...

Oh, Jessica ......
My heart was racing as I followed you into the house, through the kitchen .... and up the stairs, knowing how that would end.
We never know what we can do .... do we? Until .... we do it.
And you just did a powerful and amazing thing in sharing your "story".
Very powerful.
Maybe one day I'll be able to write mine .... although I have NO idea how many "parts" that would take!!
I've never written it .... really written it. Of course, I've spoken the words, but I think you're right .... I can only imagine who very hard and gut-wrenching it will be to actually write them ..... and live through it again while I write them.
Some day.
But not now.
Thank you for your strength ..... I know that we don't usually see it in ourselves. But when I see it so very clearly in other women on this path, then I believe, ever so slightly, that I have it, too.
Thank you.

The Retired One said...

How awful.
I also held my breath as I read your account of when you found him on the stairs.
We, (all of us)never know when or how or why when you lose a loved one.
I have held the hands of both my mom and dad as they took their last breaths. I have held the hands of BOTH my husband's parents as they took their last breaths....but it is entirely different when it is someone you love that dies and unexpectedly......and entirely different to be alone when it occurs. (I was alone with mom when it happened, as everyone else was exhausted and upstairs asleep)...but they were still in the house for immediate support...and again, it was expected.
My heart goes out to you.
I hope by writing your story here that it helps you process it more and that it puts you one day closer to remembering more about his life and your happy days together, rather than his death....and puts you one more day closer to closure and to being happy again.

Ramblin Mama said...

My heart raced as I read about you coming into the house and going upstairs. Like the others, I knew what was coming. It also brought back memories of my sister-in-law describing finding my brother last year at the top of their stairs - he had suffered a sudden massive coronary. I hope you can now breathe a deep sigh of relief having finished this story. Once you've rested up, I'd love to hear stories about some of those good times when Greg made you laugh!

Anonymous said...

{{{More Hugs}}} I've been reading. I just don't always know what to say. I'm better at hugs.