Posted by: Kathy | August 9, 2011

A Preview of My Book

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m writing a book. The first part will focus on my mom’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, the last 349 days of her life, her death, and funeral, and how I coped with all of this. The second part will focus on healing from my mom’s death. After much thought, I’ve decided to share the draft of the first chapter of my book. Honestly, I’m nervous about sharing this. But I welcome any comments and feedback.

Chapter 1

The cold November wind had begun to numb my body even though we’d only been at the gravesite for about 10 minutes. No matter what time of year it was, there were always gusts of wind swirling around on this hill. In the springtime and early fall it was a beautiful place to visit, if you didn’t mind being surrounded by tombstones and the dead. I tried to focus on the pastor’s words, absorb their meaning, but they seemed to float past me like the wind. There were only a few of us sitting around the casket I had helped pick out just a few days ago. The burial was private, and our family was small. Even smaller now. The pastor had finished his short graveside service, ending the ceremony with a prayer. There was a sadness in his eyes, as if they were saying “I’m sorry for your loss.” I had known Reverend Shaub for almost 15 years, although it had been at least a decade since we had last seen each other. A kind-hearted man who truly cared about our family, Reverend Shaub’s presence always brought me comfort.

One by one, we stood up, placed a flower on the casket, and said our goodbyes. People were crying as they walked away from the casket, but I wasn’t one of them. I had shed numerous tears over the past 352 days, often at inappropriate times. Now, at a time when I should be crying, my eyes were completely dry. I was appalled at myself for not crying, but honestly I didn’t feel anything. Just as the cold wind had numbed my body, shock and disbelief had numbed my heart. I lightly touched my fingers to the smooth wood of the casket and whispered, “I love you, Mom.”

As I turned away from the gravesite and walked up the hill with my husband and son on either side of me, I realized that this was it. The funeral was over. The casket would be lowered into the ground and covered with dirt. My week of bereavement leave was basically over. Everything had come to an end, and I would never see my mom again. Now I was expected to move on with life as usual.

Life…as…usual. What did that mean? How could I live my life as “usual” without my mom? What would happen to our Friday night dinners since she was the one who always cooked for us? How could our weekend outings ever be the same again when my mom was the one who planned them? How could I go on with life as usual when I just watched pancreatic cancer kill one of the most important people in my life? I watched my mom die by degrees,  powerless to help her or stop what was happening. Life as usual wasn’t possible anymore. It didn’t exist. It had ended with the death of my mom, and I had no idea what the future held. The frigid wind whipped past me again, and I suddenly felt like all the energy had been stripped from me, caught up in the wind with my emotions and so many questions.

This wasn’t my first visit to Forest Hills Cemetery. When my grandfather died eight and a half years earlier, I learned we had a small family plot here. His death was sudden, unexpected, and he stayed on life support just long enough for his wife of 62 years to say goodbye. Even though my grandfather was almost 93 years old, I was devastated by his death. I cried so hard that I lost one of my contacts on the way to my parents’ house, where our small family gathered together for support. John William Patton, known to most as Bill and to me as Pop Pop, was someone I had deeply admired, respected, and loved, just for being the grandfather he had been to me. He was the first of my grandparents to die, the one I was closest to and most alike. For the first time in my life I was navigating the world of grief.

Although I later learned that he had been an incredibly talented artist, what I remembered Pop Pop for most was his sense of humor, which was laced with a hint of sarcasm. He loved to joke around and often made comments about what I was wearing, as it didn’t conform to his standards of what a young lady should wear. He never failed to make me laugh. However, Pop Pop had met his match in many ways when it came to his wife. My grandmother, who I called Mom Mom, was a strong woman with a gentle personality. She was good-natured about her husband’s love to joke around, but I believe that in some ways she kept him “in check.” My grandparents would often “bicker” with each other, and it was funny to listen to them. I frequently found myself smiling or biting my lip in an effort not to laugh because they were so polite and their “arguments” were never about anything substantial. Most of the time, they would go back and forth about dates, places, or names, where one would claim that the other was mistaken.

My grandparents were both set in their ways, and each believed in doing certain things a specific way. For example, Mom Mom always washed and dried dishes by hand, no matter how many dishes there were. She’d stand in front of the kitchen sink, an apron tied around her thin waist, dishcloth in one hand, and wash each dish in a dish pan filled with hot, soapy water. After a few plates or cups, she would rinse what she had washed and then place the dishes in the rack to dry. Although after a holiday meal or birthday celebration, one of us would always help her dry since there were so many dishes. One Christmas evening, after a dinner served on my mom’s fine china, I offered to help my grandmother dry the dishes, and her response surprised me. 

“No dear,” Mom Mom said. “I already have someone to help me.” Looking up from the sink, my grandmother raised her voice slightly and said “Oh, Bill.”

A few feet behind me, I heard my grandfather mutter, “Oh no, not again.”

But he didn’t argue or refuse. I don’t think Pop Pop even said a word as he walked to the sink, picked up the dish towel, and waited for the first dish to be passed his way to dry. My grandfather always helped his wife with whatever she needed. Whether in their house in Jenkintown, PA, or the retirement home, they were always there for each other. My grandparents had been together for more than 55 years at that time and they had a comfortable routine. Most importantly, they loved and respected each other. I saw the same type of love and respect between my parents. We weren’t a family that routinely said the words “I love you,” but the love was there and it was known.

I returned to Forest Hills Cemetery on May 4, 2001, to commemorate the one year anniversary of Pop Pop’s death. The headstone had been placed on his grave, and both of my grandparents’ names had been carved into the polished gray marble. Although Mom Mom was very much alive and in good health, she insisted on having her name and the year of her birth put on the headstone when it was first made, claiming it would make things easier in the long run. I understood my grandmother’s reasoning from a practical standpoint, but seeing her name on the headstone was upsetting because I didn’t want to think about losing her too. It was like a foretelling of bad things to come, and since my grandparents had been together for more than 60 years, I feared that the grief over losing her husband would be too much for her. Born on Friday, June 13, 1913, Kathryn Dorothy Patton passed away four and a half years later at age 92.

Mom Mom died on December 15, 2005, almost nine months to the day after suffering a major stroke. To me, my grandmother was a true lady. She had what would be considered today as “old school” manners, along with dignity and grace, and she believed in acting and dressing like a lady. She always wore a blouse and skirt, or a dress for special occasions, with a bit of make-up and some jewelry. My grandmother always put others before herself and never wanted to be a bother (her word) to anyone.

Even though she was basically blind before her stroke, Mom Mom got around fairly well and knew everyone by the sound of their voice. But then, suddenly, this self-sufficient woman became completely dependent on others. The stroke had left her almost completely paralyzed, and she spent the last months of her life bedridden much of the time, unable to do anything on her own. Mom Mom couldn’t sit up without help or even feed herself. It was hard to watch, but my grandmother never complained, and she truly appreciated everything that anyone did for her.

Every night after work and on the weekends, my mom would visit her mother and bring a dinner she had made the night before, making sure to follow my grandmother’s special diet. My mom would stand next to the bed and feed her mother, talking about the family or what was going on in the world. It was very important to her that my grandmother ate something. I tried to visit at least once a week and would read to Mom Mom. We were reading the first Harry Potter book, and sometimes she asked me to read passages from the Bible. As I watched my mom feed and take care of her mother, I often wondered how she did it. The depth of my mom’s devotion amazed me, and I didn’t think I would ever be able to do the same thing if I were in her shoes. But when my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I quickly learned that you would do anything and everything you could to help someone you loved, especially when that person was your mother.

Although my grandmother’s death was very hard for me, I was relieved that she was finally at peace after spending nine months basically bedridden and unable to do anything for herself. I was pregnant when Mom Mom died, and decided to add “Kathryn” as my daughter’s second middle name in honor and remembrance of my grandmother. The size of my family was decreasing faster than it was increasing. In the five and a half years between Mom Mom’s and Pop Pop’s deaths, I also lost my paternal grandparents – Grandpop to a heart attack, and Grandmom to Alzheimer’s disease. I had no idea that I would return to Forest Hills Cemetery only two years and eleven months after Mom Mom died for my own mother’s burial.

I turned to look at my mom’s gravesite one more time, but all I could see was the green and white striped tent that had been set up over the area. I climbed into the waiting limousine, away from the constant wind and numbing cold. I slid into a corner seat. I didn’t want to talk about anything or think about all that had happened. I still felt awful for not crying. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I would more than “make up” for those missing tears, so many times over, during the coming weeks, months, and years.

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Responses

  1. Kathy, You are so brave to put your innermost thoughts into words for others to read. Obviously, other people are experiencing the same journey, so you are all healing together. I know your mother and grandparents would be so proud of you not in the least because you are raising such terrific children who your father brags about all the time (with good reason). Stay strong and determined. Love, Joyce

  2. Thanks Joyce. This book is so many things to me: a tribute to my mom, a way of keeping her memory alive, healing for me through words, and hopefully a way to help others. This book is my deepest feelings put into word, almost like sharing some of the innermost secrets of my heart.

    I’m doing better physically and may finally be ok in the near future.

    Love, Kathy

  3. Kathy

    This is so beautiful. I can see your mother and grandmother again in your heartfelt descriptions.
    My daughter in law’s sister had fibromyalgia and went to a therapist in LA who cured her. If you want more information, please call or e-mail me.
    With love, Joyce (Heisen)

  4. Kathy,
    Your words touched me, I think writing a book about your mom is a wonderful idea. You can help others with the grieving process and honor your mother too. Your description of your grandparents reminded me of my own parents. My dad passed away July 3, 2008. He and my mother would bicker about dates and little things, I think because they were both stubborn and the fact that they had been married almost 60 years made them want to somehow show to the world that they had individual personalities, even though they were meshed together after all those years,,,,but I know they loved each other very much.
    I encourage you to continue to write your book. I for one will definately purchase it and give it to my sister, who lost her husband Bob to pancreatic cancer April 20th of this year. Her life has changed so much these past few months. She has had to go out and get a fulltime job so that she could have medical insurance. She is being forced to do things that she has never done before. I find myself over and over again, helpless….wishing I could take her pain away. This disease has a ripple effect that many don’t understand.
    I look forward to reading your about your journey…..

    • Thanks Lisa, for your comments and your support. I was really nervous about sharing what I had written – I felt vulnerable in a way. I guess it’s because this book means so much to me. I’ve watched so many things change and sometimes I feel like my mom is slipping away, if that makes sense, even though she is gone. It’s funny that my grandparents “bickering” reminded you of your parents. They were special people and I was very fortunate to have them in my life for so long.

      I’ve often thought of your sister and wondered how she is doing. I’m sure you are a wonderful support to her as she navigates her way through a life she never imagined not too long ago. Unforunately, you can’t take away her pain. Grieving and healing is a process that is different for everyone. But I’m sure your support helps.

      I work on my book in my spare time. Hopefully one day I can get it published. I appreciate you taking time to read my first chapter and also to comment. I wish both you and your sister all the best.

      Take care, Kathy

  5. That was great Hun!

    I’m so proud of you and know your book will do well. After all the stories about Pop Pop I wish I could have met him, but I’m glad to have had a chance to meet Mom Mom.

    She was such a classy lady. I remember rigging up a cd player for her so she could easily listen to her opera music and modifying her tv remote so only certain buttons worked because she feared hitting the wrong buttons and messing something up.

    I never met someone so kind and generous. She would give you the shirt off her back. Usually because she completely disagreed with the one you were wearing. Lol

    I can just hear her saying, “Oh Kathryn, dear…”


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