Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Last Year

“I love you and we’re going to get through this”- the last words Derek barely was able to say to me before hospital staff shoved a living will in my hands and shuffled me out into a waiting room while they put his failing lungs on a ventilator.

For the next two weeks, I was forced to leave for two hours during the evening shift change and I was not allowed to stay in the ICU overnight.

“Can I stay the night here?” I asked a nurse on the first night.

“We only allow family to stay if the patient might die during the night” the nurse said.

“So…?” I asked.

“You can’t stay the night” she said and I was relieved.

So I had to call and pester nurses multiple times a night to check on Derek and sometimes had to bribe staff to let me in early. I existed like a zombie, barely eating, barely sleeping. Over the next two weeks I watched every single bump and drop on the ventilator screen, watched as he coughed up blood from his hemorrhaging lungs, and dealt with a constant stream of well-intentioned family and friends as many disillusioned themselves to the circumstances.

I sat in a conference room with 6 doctors, all alone, as they took turns telling me how Derek would never recover, how it didn’t matter even if he did because he still had cancer, and how hope and faith were pointless. And yet I still prayed, I bardered, I pleaded, I begged. I was not above any thing to get him better.

But they woke him up out of his drug stupor and told him he would die.

“What will happen to my family?” he mouthed. He didn’t ask how, he didn’t ask if there was anything else they could do.

“That is nice that you are thinking about your family, but you have to think about yourself” the doctor said.

“I want to go home” he mouthed and that was it.

That night, I got to stay the night. And I would wake up and catch him trying to pull out his feeding tube and scold him. I had learned how to do his physical therapy, how to change him, and how to calm him as the drugs made him feel and do crazy thing. I thought I could heal him.

The next day they shut off all the machines, except the ventilator, and we endured a bumpy, anxious ride in an ambulance home. They wheeled him in and he looked relieved to be in his own house. They gave him drugs to keep him calm. He tried to make out with me. True story.

And the next day, in our insanely hot house, they turned off the ventilator and gave him only oxygen and I watched my husband slowly die over 8 hours. And then sat next to his body for another two. I punched a wall as they rolled him out the front door and screamed. It was a tough realization that I couldn’t heal him. That love was not enough to perform a miracle.
So here we are a year later.  What a wild, trippy, terrible, wonderful year. Terrible, for sure.

I don’t want to confuse you. Let me be clear: I am not an optimist.

The last year has been hard. So hard. I have had to face some personal demons I didn’t know existed and I have had to see myself in a way that was not very flattering.

I grieve in quiet and my depression has worsened. I have become forgetful and confused. I have probably spent the equivalent of 7 months of the last year in bed. I also went months without crying. I also went months with crying. Sometimes the combination of it all hurts so bad. And as much as people think they are encouraging me with their words remarking on my “strength” and “grace” of which I have dealt with this trial, I feel that people have boxed me into an impossible standard. I am so weak and I feel that no one allowed me to be that way, so I am weak in quiet.

I’ve lost friends. And that hurts.

But as we have celebrated each birthday and anniversary. As I have endured funerals, attended baptisms, and celebrated weddings, I have discovered I am not made of dust like I once thought I was. It is impossible for me to float away with the wind.

This day a year ago I sat by Derek’s bedside and held his hand while he died. And sometimes it is all I see when I close my eyes.

I still only sleep on one side of the bed, his clothes still take up half of the closet, and sometimes I think I hear him walk down the hallway and expect him to walk into our room.

I catch his scent in Camden’s room at night, and sometimes, I think his spirit lays down on his side of the bed to help me sleep at night.

I have been so worried that he would be so ashamed of me. That now he gets to see me in all my flawed glory. I wasn’t sure if he had realized how weak I had been all along.

But then I have had to realize that love, especially when you have a better view of forever, is not weak. Our love could not heal his wounds and it would not make him rise from the dead. But our love has performed a miracle. In fact, it created one. And over the last year, I have had to drag myself out of bed to give that miracle lunch and make sure it didn’t watch too much TV. That miracle has helped pull me out of my own despair and remind me that life really is worth living. That miracle has forced me to realize that even though I am so weak, I am also so strong. So I couldn’t heal Derek. But the last year has made me realize that I can heal myself and I better take that opportunity before it is gone.

Beach faces. 


  1. Kaela,
    Even though you feel like you are not strong, I bed to differ. We all know that you have had a very difficult year and we can't claim to know how you feel or how you've felt. Your strength looks different to me. You strength is the simple fact that you are here, smiling and changing lives. Your "you-ness" offers me hope and strength when I need it. Your strength reminds me that we can all do hard things. So honey, its okay to be sad, and mad, and angry but don't for a second think that you are not strong. Your example inspires me every day. I'm here for you darling. Even if you just need a babysitter for Camden so that you can be alone and angry. We all love you and trust me when I say that Derek was incredibly lucky to have you. I miss him every day. Love you. :)

  2. This had me sobbing like a baby. I know we aren't super close or anything, but ever since I met Jordan I have loved your whole family so much! I remember the night I found out about Derek's passing. I went in my room and cried. Harder and longer than a mere "acquaintance" should have. My husband was confused at me being so emotional. I didn't even cry like that when my grandmother died. Or anyone I had ever known. I'm still not sure what it is, but I feel an unexplainable sense of closeness and love for you and your family. Thank you for sharing these beautiful words and for making me cry, again.