10 years ago – my life was buzzing right along. I had an enviable marriage, touting our good fortune countlessly to weary friends, Scott & I had – what my friend likes to call – “millionaires choice”: 2 healthy babies – one older boy & one younger girl. 10 years ago, we were comfortably moved into our 2nd house in Southern California, working to maintain our middle- class lifestyle. 10 years ago we had a multitude of great friends, drunken laughs and a bright future in a freshly remodeled house that looked as solid as it did stereotypical, and was bound to be filled with events and memories enough to fill many lifetimes of scrapbooks and journals. 10 years ago was great. Until it wasn’t.
When the economic downturn of 2008 hit, it spiraled hundreds of thousands of American families into an economic free fall. While Scott maintained his job for a short while, it was not long until he, too, was on the receiving end of a pink slip sending all of us into a tailspin. As the dust settled around our tiny bubble of existence, Scott began really worrying about our otherwise solid & hopeful future that had been dreamed about, discussed, meticulously planned, and counted on – and quite frankly, expected. Well, what we didn’t know was that 2010 was gonna be full of many more “surprises”.
This is where I get to the point in the story that reminds me of my countless hours as a kid spent in front of the TV at my grandma’s house stuffing my face with my 2nd or 3rd HUGE bowl of Coco Puffs watching the comedic brilliance of Bugs Bunny. Remember when he used to pop up out of his little rabbit hole, a tattered map in hand (who uses a map in a rabbit hole?!) scratching his head and looking perplexed at his new surroundings? Only to bewilderedly exclaim “I knew I shoulda took that left turn at Albuquerque!” Well this, folks, is my Bugs Bunny moment…..
Toward the end of 2009, Scott started suffering what we all thought were stress headaches and some mild confusion. As time went on, he began to lose his temper more quickly and became less engaged with me and the family. Of course, all this seemed normal considering what was going on in our disrupted lives and I figured I’d let things run its course, even though I was starting to get quite fed up with what I thought was a crappy attitude. As Christmas neared, he finally settled and took a job with a bank doing some basic appraisal work – much to his horror. He despised the job because it felt to him as if he were throwing in the towel on his much anticipated and well-compensated commercial real estate job he lost earlier in 2009.
So beginning 2010 with defeat, Scott started begrudgingly going to work each day only to look a little more haggard and depressed upon each return home. He started complaining about the lights in the office being too low and how he couldn’t read the reports very well, or the fact that sometimes he got lost on the way home because his mind was elsewhere, or the headaches – the damn headaches. In a nutshell, I thought he might have been showing signs of going slightly bat-shit crazy. And here I was in the middle of the dark vortex of motherhood where all I was looking forward to was my late afternoon concert hour when I could blast “Welcome to the Jungle” and dance out the wiggles with the kids, along with some much wanted “me-time” upon Scott’s return.
Meanwhile Scott continued to make his way to work but started suffering migraines so badly that he could hardly get up in the morning, sometimes sleeping for much of the day. I called the doctor, only to be told that he needed stronger headache medication – but that wasn’t working, either. The doctor finally suggested the ER, but when I asked Scott if he wanted to go, he brushed away the concern based on monetary issues – worried again about the costs to the family vs. his personal health benefits. My mind screams at me now for taking him at his word and not insisting.
Again, you’d think I could put two and two together, but I was hiding in my rabbit hole too concerned with the household, focused on my kids and blindingly tired. I look back on that time now with some remorse, wishing I had been more aware of helping my husband get out of what I thought was mild depression due to external circumstances. Instead, I was seeing life with tired eyes and an old perspective. Well, the new perspective was coming up behind us quick – kind of like that bull in the above picture – but just like Bugs – we weren’t ready for the shape and size of the swift kick of fresh perspective we were getting ready to experience.
Frustrated, I did what California girls know how to do best – I called our therapist and made an emergency appointment. I wanted him to talk sense into Scott and get him out of this funk! Toward the end of our session, the therapist looked at us with concern and suggested we go to the ER “just to rule anything else out”. What we didn’t hear was the urgency in his calm delivery, so we sauntered out of the office discussing a possible ER visit again. I mean, Scott & I were still thinking this was just a touch of depression, not anything more than that, right? Scott determined that it was still too much money and we shouldn’t bother, and since both of us were in such denial of anything serious happening, it all seemed to be quite natural to support each other in that ignorant narrative.
My sister and I chatted the following day as I filled her in on Scott’s condition. He had stayed home that day, again, and was in the process of sleeping off another monster headache. Since our mother had died years before of a cancerous brain tumor, my sister tentatively broached the subject – could Scott have the same thing? I blew it off, but just then a little alarm was going off in my head – quietly at first – as she slowly read me the list of symptoms: headaches, confusion, sensitivity to light – and then much louder – the bells started clanging with intensity, but I still sat in denial. All I remember is my nervous laughter hiding the deep and terrifying pit forming in my stomach.
The next day, when I returned home from a night away with the kids, I saw Scott’s wild hair, vacant eyes and crooked gait. Clearly something more was happening than a “touch of depression”. So when Scott had a seizure and collapsed on the couch as we were preparing to head to the ER (file that under “a day late and a dollar short”) our life as we knew it came collapsing inward – kind of like the economic downturn but much much worse. Calmly and firmly I gave orders to my 5 year old son to hand me the phone so I could call 9-1-1 while the screaming alarms inside my head transitioned to emergency sirens and threatened to drown out the reality of what was happening in front of me. While the paramedics worked to stabilize him, I prayed to God for it not to be the worst, and that’s when all the pieces rushed together.
I am sure you have seen this part in many movies where the main character obtains the final piece to the emotional or physical puzzle they’ve been seeking their whole life, and then…BOOM!….the music swells and the flashbacks of clues swirl around them like the tornado in the Wizard of Oz, until the images travel at lightning speed and then as quickly as they started….BOOM! they stop. The character has become enlightened and their vision is crystal clear, as if their eyes are peeled of blurred skins and their surroundings are in perfect focus. A brand new perspective beckons their immediate attention and the responsibilities of that newness weighs like 1000 elephants sitting on their chest as they try to make sense of their new normal. That’s kind of how Scott’s seizure felt to me. I knew without a doubt, that he had a brain tumor – and now our future had finally been revealed…
“I should have known”, was the narrative going through my head as I had been with my mother when we found out about her cancer years before. I remember clearly that final second of normalcy where everything was going fine and then without warning she had a massive seizure that revealed her growing brain tumor. To my absolute distress, this was the same scene playing out 15 years later. This wasn’t supposed to happen! This wasn’t part of the plan! This wasn’t supposed to be our life! Were we even supposed to be HERE?! We clearly took the wrong turn at Albuquerque.
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As I reflect upon all that has transpired and all that we have done in the 8 years since the day Scott died, I am in amazement at how we have lived without his commanding presence this long. Days speed by like Indianapolis 500 drivers passing the crowd at the Speedway, leaving behind a colorful but blurry patchwork of memories to sustain us. Baseball games, gymnastics performances, singing concerts, first days of school, cross country meets, first crushes, first dances….that, my friends, is life. The greatest sadness juxtaposed with the greatest hope of the future. It is the perfect tangible expression of time moving forward without any regard to your feelings.
And now, the kids are growing up and becoming young adults, and it hit me the other day that they have lived more of their life without Scott, than they did with him. I remember once my 6-year old daughter sagely lamenting “mommy, you got the best years of daddy.” I didn’t respond, I just sat there knowing that she was right and promising to myself that I would try to be as good of a parent as I could be with the incredibly generous help of my family, close friends and the community. The truth is that my kids did get the shaft, but they don’t get to sit in that pity party – I don’t let them – and they in turn, don’t want to be pitied. Everyone has their family cross to bear, and ours happens to be the loss of Scott.
As you all know, our lives end up being a mish mash of things we never would have expected. Sometimes we are moving along and all is well, and then other times unexpected things happen that change our course. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but either way your path is irreversibly transformed. When the “sometimes for worse” stuff happens, you must know that while things will look grim and uncontrollable within that moment, with time, your perspective is forced to change. Let it. That’s when we allow ourselves to wipe off the grit and grime of the windows through which we have been peering and just for a moment, we can trash the deluded notion that our lives are in a comfortable sphere within our control. Clearly, it’s not.
Today, 8 years later, our house is not as new and shiny as it once was, showing its wear and tear with floors boasting pock marks, outdated wall paint and some furniture in need of replacement, but surprisingly enough, this old house has been, and will continue to be, filled with love, friends, laughter & God’s grace. It has and will continue to host important events and create profound memories enough to fill today, tomorrow and the rest of our lifetimes in scrapbooks and journals.
Life is going to push you this way and that – most times without your permission. However, the positive outcome will be deeply connected to the decisions you make in the wake of those unexpected moments. And those decisions, coupled with your ability to recover, will reveal your next destination. Only through these overwhelming instances of discomfort and unfortunate heartbreak, will you prove to yourself that you have the ability to emerge stronger and smarter so that you can get back on your feet, ready for the next round.
Who knows, maybe then you will have your Bugs Bunny moment. Maybe then you will pop out of your rabbit hole with a tattered map of your life and realize your left turn at Albuquerque was never the right turn in the first place. And that HERE is exactly where you are supposed to be.