A Toast To Those Who Have Passed Away

May the saddest days of your future be no worse than the happiest days of your past. On this one-year anniversary of my loves passing I sit here raising my glass to the good times we once shared. I have wondered how I would handle this day. November 3, 2014 was the beginning of a year that continued to bring death at every turn. I have tried to make sense of the last year but find myself wondering why there has been so much death.

One year ago I came home for lunch and as I entered the house my love was covered in blood walking toward the door with a phone in his hand. He had been vomiting blood all morning. I called down stairs to my mother and nephew saying that we were going to the hospital. When we arrived the nurses immediately brought him to a triage room. Thinking back there was so much I wanted to say but what I remember seems so meaningless. As more vomiting occurred, my love only really had two important items he wanted to get out. First he wanted me to know where the letter he had written to our son was and secondly that he did not want to be air lifted to Anchorage. He had been fighting for five months and he was tired of the fight. He was in so much pain and wanted to be moved into a hospital room. I stepped outside to speak to the doctor and he said this was it. I broke down and started to cry uncontrollably. Thankfully they had a room to move him to.

He was moved to room 100 at Providence Valdez Medical Center in Valdez, Alaska. Holding onto hope that my love would survive the night, I sat there helplessly. When I realized that time was short, I called our son to get to the hospital as soon as possible so he would have an opportunity to say good-bye to his dad. Just before our son arrived, we almost lost my love. I frantically yelled to get help. It seemed like an endless amount of time before the doctor arrived. The medical team was able to revive my love. Thankfully, our son would be able to say good-bye to his dad.

I met our son in the hallway and we shared an emotional moment. Before going into room 100, I warned our son that his dad was weak and not doing well. Because my love had lost so much blood, the doctor asked if we would agree to a blood transfusion. I said sure, if it could help. We had no religious issues with the treatment. That seemed to stabilize him for a while. Although in reality, it was just a sort term solution.

We sat by my loves bedside talking to my love hoping that he could hear us. Occasionally my love would try to speak but no words came out. We would talk to him about family adventures and play music that we knew he would enjoy. The medical team said that he could hear us. I hope that we brought him some kind of comfort and he lay on death’s door. I found myself continuing to look at the monitors checking my loves oxygen level and blood pressure. At some point in the evening a nurse came in a turned the monitor off. He said that time was short and that I should focus on the moment and not the monitor.

At 11:28 pm on November 3, 2014 my life changed. My love took his last breath. The nurse came in and said that in Alaska it took two nurses to proclaim a death. The second nurse came in and it was official. My love had passed away. It had been such an emotional evening. My son and I sat there not knowing what we were supposed to do next. The nurse said we had as much time as we needed. I just didn’t know how much time I needed. I knew this was going to be the last time I would see my love in the physical sense. What would happen to him now?

As Valdez does not have a funeral home or a crematorium, my love would have to stay in the morgue before being transported to Anchorage for cremation. When I went home all I could think about was how lonely my love was in the morgue. I can remember thinking how my love said he did not want to go to Anchorage. Well there was no other choice.

It was after midnight when I finally returned home. I called down to my mom and we spent a while talking about the day. She believed that my love would come home. She could not believe that the last time she would speak to my love was for a phone message. My loves death was hard on my mom. I believe that was the beginning of the end for her on that November day.

The days following my loves death I was numb. I did not know what the future held. My son and were fortunate to have great support from small town Valdez. I was truly surprised with the support that we received. We really appreciated all the well wishes. I wanted to believe that the coming year would bring new hope.

That was not the case. Two months and two days later my loves brother passed away from his batter of kidney and liver failure. What is going on? This cannot be happening again. Why did this happen. My son worried that his family was falling apart. At this point I decided that it was time for me to get healthy. I really got into it and began exercise and get right. We were starting to get on track.

In June of 2015 we honored my loves wishes to do a memorial cruise on the Schooner Zodiac. The cruise brought together family, Up & Up friends, college friends and Zodiac crew. It was an amazing experience. I truly believe my love would have enjoyed the gathering. All was beginning to come together.

Then it happened again. My loves nephew, who had been battling cystic fibrosis for all of his life, passed away in early June. He left behind a young wife and daughter. We now have lost three family members. My son and I went back to Minnesota to attend the funeral. It really was much more than I could handle, three deaths in 8 months.

In the meantime, my mom had been in the hospital for about a month. She had fallen a number of times over the last couple of months. She was no longer able to walk without help. This was more than she could handle. During the summer of 2015 she had been moved into Providence Extended Care Unit. While in the unit she lost all will to live. She had lived a robust life and not being able to walk caused her to give up on life. With out a will to live, she stopped eating. Over a six-week period she developed posttraumatic stress disorder from her time in the Dutch under ground in World War II as well as childhood abuse from her stepfather. Near the end she no longer spoke English. She reverted back to her first language, Dutch. She would call out for help. Her agonizing screams called out to her sister and mother. The nurses would ask me what she was saying. I would translate. The memories that she was reliving were horrific. She never shared any of these events with me. This was all new. I really wish that I could have provided comfort. All I can hope was that she knew that I was there.

My mother passed away on August 17, 2015 in room 118 at Providence Valdez Extended Care Unit. Come to find out, the cousin that she grew up with passed away on August 5, 2015. It was on that day that she began to fade away. Did she know that her beloved cousin passed away? They were so very close but had not spoken in some time. I have to think that they were connected.

In between all of this death, I received a call from a very dear friend in Bellingham. She started the conversation that said she did not want to be so similar. I said Huh? Her husband died in a freak climbing accident. What? No. This could not be. That makes six deaths in nine months. Seriously. What is going on?

So as I sit here thinking about the past year, I raise my glass to those who have passed away. To my love, I embrace the life that we shared. The memories comfort me. To my brother in law, I am so glad that we were able to connect one last time. To my nephew, I will make sure that your daughter is part of the family legacy. To my cousin, I will keep the family heritage alive. To my mother, your pain will not go unnoticed and I will strive to make your memory relevant and tell your story. To my best friends, husband, I will be there for your family. It is this commitment of memory that those who have passed away will be honored and remembered.