Monday, August 31, 2009

36 Hours of Needed Torture

From about 9 AM Friday morning as we were trying to leave for the Hospice groundbreaking until 9 PM Saturday night as I just finished up going through all of Hope's things I experienced what had to be the toughest 36 hours straight since Hope passed away and even comparable to any other period of the same except maybe that fateful Thanksgiving weekend in the ER. Let's start from the beginning, Friday morning at 10 AM was the hospice groundbreaking they asked me to speak and tell our story about our hospice experience. I was trying to slam out a project and then 9 AM came around and I realized not only did I need to leave in a few minutes but I hadn't prepared at all for what I would say. I was the same way for Hope's celebration, I had no idea what I was going to say until I jotted down a few notes over about a 15 minute period before we left back on January 11th and on Friday I only had the time during the 20 minute drive on the way up along with fielding phone calls. I was supposed to drive myself because I had a meeting immediately following but since I could not drive and write down any notes Erin was kind enough to do so so I had a few minutes to put thoughts together.

While I was thinking about our hospice experience I also was thinking about all of the groundbreakings I normally go to for projects. This one was different, it meant so much more. I had to get that point across along with our story. When we got there it was about 95 degrees with no breeze so everyone was warm. The turnout was incredible, easily a couple hundred people. They put me last on the list of 5 speakers which I thought was good, gave me a few more minutes to think about what I might say. Back to the the typical groundbreakings, I wear my company logo shirt, shake hands, fake smile, kiss babies, and say our company name as much as possible. I help people that recognize me but can't remember the name feel comfortable by telling them first, the typical politcal feel good drill. (By the way, my job is about 50% politics, 30% arguing/defending the project, and down to about 20% technical ability. You have to have the technical ability but after that it's 80 to 90% everything you do not learn in school. If I had one bit of advice for prospective civil engineers going private sector, it's make sure you can speak in front of others with spontaneity, make sure you can defend every decision, be practible about what's worth fighting for and what's not (if you can give on something small you can hopefully win on the big stuff most important to your client or budget or timeframe), use humor as much as you can to lighten the situation, and don't take it personal. I've been called a liar more times then I can remember, had the public yell at me, been threatened to the point that I was afraid to walk to my car, I have been accused of twice killing a neighbor to one of our projects by their spouse, and my favorite was that I was going to hell by a pastor/minister.) --- I'm telling you I'm getting much worse with long sidenotes.

Back to the speech, all the others were long drawn out thank you's. Right before I went up Ann-Marie who was sitting next to me told me not to mention penises and vaginas like I did at the church for Hope's celebration so then I really had nothing to say. I went up to the makeshift stage/podium and said I was the civil engineer of record for the project, recently had a hospice experience with the same group so much of the crowd was definitely friendly towards me before I even spoke, and then talked about how this groundbreaking was different, not wearing a logo shirt, not mentioning my company name (CEG), but was willing to kiss any babies available. I then mentioned our company name about 10 times during the presentation which always got a laugh, but only mentioned my wife and never her name. I talked about how my kids called hospice the potato chip place because they were always hopped up on chips on soda while there, gave intimate details about hopsice's first introduction to me, decorating Hope's room, making her comfortable, coming home, going back on Christmas eve, etc. In the end I said I never mentioned my wife's name, and it was HOPE. I hoped everyone could donate to the non-profit hospice, could hope to help others, and in case you missed it my company's name was CEG. I had so many people come up to me afterwards with kind words including one gentleman I worked with over 15 years ago that told me he was going to donate $1000 in Hope's name.

All in all it went well but it really took a toll on me mentally. Erin who had driven me there could see it at the end and started to make up a story about how late we were for the next meeting just to get me out of there. We went to the next meeting, and then on the way back to the office I met two of my partners that had been feuding for a 2.5 hour painful lunch discussion that was beneficial but produced less then I had hoped. Then it was back to the office and before I knew it I was sucked backed into another hour long discussion between the partners. I had absolutely nothing left in me mentally. That night I was looking forward to getting the band back together, Glen and Shannon, Jen, Roo, and Ann-Marie (a couple of others were supposed to come but never showed).

Roo and Man-Marie were with me every day at hospice and when Hope was home, and they started telling stories about her back then. Well Hope became angry and mean towards the end which is only to be expected, and of course it was nothing anyone took personally. However she did things that were just not her personality at all so they were telling story after story. I was laughing along with everyone but then the weight of the earlier part of the day and this discussion really started to bring me down. I felt so isolated, lonely, at times overwhelmed, and even felt like I was going to have an anxiety attack at one point. I went to the bathroom and by the time I got back the subject had changed so I started to feel better. It was one of the first times Roo and Ann-Marie had got together so it was only natural with a couple of other of Hope’s best friends they would talk about it. I wasn’t mad at all, just disappointed in myself. Ann-Marie confided in me that they changed the subject when I got up thinking it might be too much. You just have to love friends that know you so well. I've said it so many times, I'm one lucky dude no matter what I have been through and continue to experience.

That was nothing compared to Saturday. We did our normal play date at our neighborhood park first thing in the morning, had everyone back to our house for swimming and lunch until early afternoon. Then the boys were off to a friend’s house and Ann-Marie came over. We spent the next 6 hours going through everything of Hope’s from the shampoos in the shower, all of her jewelry, make-up, juices, creams, and then her entire closet. Both of us cried a lot, at times I was so overwhelmed I had to walk away and sobbed so hard I fell to the floor. Little things that reminded me of her just took me down like a pair of pajamas, unpacking her hospice bag which I had never done, unwrapped gifts, little memories that would not mean a thing to anyone else. I could not even see through my contacts anymore as everything became foggy. It was kind of like how Wayne saw Tina Carrere in the first Wayne’s World while Dream Weaver was playing over her hard rock music in his head. Except for me it wasn’t Dream Weaver, I was trying to let Hope go more in one major step.

It wasn’t all hard, we found things that made us laugh. At the end I have 6 huge black trash bags of clothes ranging in size from 10 to 2, and the 2’s toward the end were hanging off her like on Spongebob when the evil plankton shrinks every into being a baby. I am taking them today to a woman’s shelter. I imagine that is wear women go when they have no place else for retraining because they failed as a wife by not having dinner hot and ready when her man came home or to relearn how to vacuum, cook, fetch us slippers and another beer, and change the baby while we men get our much needed downtime by boozing and catching up on sports. Seriously it feels really good that we will be able to help so many women that have been through tough times at the shelter and I know Hope would be proud to do it. Now people need help more then ever. We put together one large tupperware tub of the things that reminded us the most of Hope. That way in the future I could go through it with the boys. We saved her other favorite clothes to make 2 quilts and 2 teddy bears, one each for the boys.

We have a few other things to take to Goodwill and back to the American Cancer Society, but those will have to be another day as we are out of room in her Durango. Then came the toughest part of the entire weekend. I had picked up the boys, got them to bed, and was by myself in the house. After over 12 years of never taking it off, rubbing it incessantly through some of my hardest hours when Hope was dying, fidgeting with it all the time when I was bored or nervous about something, I finally took my wedding ring off. It feels so strange, I imagine what a dog feels like after they’re neutered. You’re sniffing around and running aimlessly as you know something is missing that was such a huge part of your life for so long, but yet it’s something relatively minor to everyone else in the world. That night was one of the hardest ever, just walking towards her closet and seeing the stark white walls I would start to cry. Hope’s mom came over the next day to get some things I thought she’d want and she could not even go near the closet. My mom came over later and just sobbed too when she saw it. It’s something that had to happen some time and has been hanging over my head for 7 months, but it was much harder to do then I ever imagined. I still feel sick to my stomach thinking about it and I’m crying just trying to type this blog, but I know it’s a major step in my progress. I don’t love or miss her any less, but I am one major step closer to being whole again without her here physically which is something we talked about over and over again as she was passing away.

So the next morning like a moron I decided to go through the entire kitchen too. I put together another huge bag of good for Goodwill as I spent 4 hours or so doing that. I’m still not sure how I feel about all of this, except that I am relieved that I did it. I will never be able to thank Man-Marie enough for being here to do it. My finger feels weird, I feel like I’m parading through town without pants on. Some people I saw on Sunday noticed right away, others either didn’t notice or didn’t say anything. I still feel foggy on Monday after so much emotion over the weekend but especially that first 36 hours Friday and Saturday. I talked it all through with the boys and they’re good with it, but we had a really tough on me conversation over breakfast Sunday morning about why I took the ring off, about how much I’ll always love Mommy, that some day they could have a stepmom as Nathan asked me that directly, even though we talked about it before. I walked them both through her closet, showed them the stuff we kept and what we’re giving away to help others that need it like giving kids with no toys our old toys. We do that every Christmas and they love to get thank you’s and sometimes pictures depending if we pick a certain family or just give to a charity.

I think they get it, I’m still working on it, but I know the fog will clear, my finger will tan or probably burn the first time it sees the sun, that sick feeling will leave my stomach, and I can slowly start looking for Ms. Right or Ms. Rightnow according to Robin Williams (the first time I typed that I put in Mrs. instead of Ms. and luckily not Mr. so just to be clear I’m not looking for married women or men, at least not right now --- okay just to be clear not married or single men, no men at all but not that there’s anything wrong with that). My 36 hours of torture is over, now the hard part really begins…


rach said...

What an incredibly hard thing you had to do. You are so strong.

We are proud of what you have done and will do for the Hospice. The boys will be too.

Keep up the strength (and the good rep you are giving for engineers everywhere!)

We love you and think of you all the time :)

Rach and Hazelnut(who can come out at anytime now that she is 36 weeks!) :)

Anna Knowles said...

OK, you made me cry again. Sometimes I feel like I'm intruding when I read your blogs. I know you freely write them for all to read, but some of them are so personal and it's very generous of you to let us in your head and learn from all that you're going through. Of course you also make me laugh- thanks, I need that too.

I think about you a lot (well not as much as I think about my husband, my three year old boys, parents, ten other siblings- well probably more than some of them, there are ten you know, and some needy local friends) but I do think about you guys and hope your days will keep getting better. Most importantly I hope when times are hard (which I know you'll have them and they can't be taken away) you'll be comforted.

My husband also cares and enjoys hearing some of your hilarious stories. I will definitely steer clear from telling my two boys they can use potty talk in the bathroom! Thanks for taking one for the team. That son of yours is really cute and clever!

Anna :)

Anonymous said...

You have made the biggest step toward the rest of your life, and your boys' lives. You did good. I can only imagine (and do not want to) the difficult weekend you had. With all of your friends and family, you are never alone. You have so much to be thankful for. Always look to the brighter side. You have had a terrible year, but the bright side to that is, it can only get better.
It sounds like Hope is still helping people with her clothes and personal items. Think how many women will benefit? Hope lives on, and will continue to live on. I mean this in the literal and figurative way. God bless you and your boys, you SO deserve it!

Anna said...

Might I suggest a giant door poster of the Hoff to cover the closet door. I think Hope would be ok with that, as opposed to some half-naked boobie girl.


Myra said...

Jake you may not feel like it but you have been strong and are getting stronger. I know that the clothes and the ring were very very difficult to do. We are crying along with you.

Love to you and the boys.

Trish Scholer LeBouef said...

It's amazing how much apart of your life your ring becomes. I reminds you how very much your loved.

Just remember... you're still very much loved!!

Big step, Big Hugs, thinking of you all!

Jennifer P said...

On Wednesday, at PF Changs, my fortune cookie read "Hope is the most precious treasure to a person." I cried. The fortune was right... Hope is a treasure... hope to move forward... hope to live in the present... hope for happiness again. I'm sure that's what she wanted for you. I'm glad you have taken steps to move forward, live in the present, and find happiness again.

It was great to see you last month.

Love, Jen P

Tina said...

Catching up on some blogs I've missed. Big steps you've made recently. Some troubling postings as well. All I can say is, hmmmmm. I wish I could respond to you and Anna only...this one has to stay tight.