The Next 30 Years Without You

When I moved to NYC, I was so done with dating and my small hometown, Endicott, NY.  I wanted more out of life than working for IBM, which started in my hometown! In early September of 1985, I told my parents that in 2 weeks I was moving to NYC, with no job, and nowhere to live, they freaked.  I was not worried about finding a job, but that was easy, I found my cousin Joni, in Brooklyn Heights, moved in with her – after a year, I moved to the upper east side!

I loved the hustle and bustle of the city, and I loved all the people, people from all over, all the different cultures, all different walks of life!  I worked for a company that was very male-dominated, and all the guys that were old enough to be my father wanted me to meet their sons! However, their sons lived on Long Island, and they wanted ME to go to Long Island for a date!  I would tell them are you kidding me, I am in the greatest city in the world and if they can’t come here for a date – I am not going!

As I settled in the city, I had come to the realization that I really did not need or want a man in my life!  To be honest, I really thought that because I had very strong views on a woman’s place in society and my politics were very independent of my parents and relatives, I would just learn to be ok with it!  I had dated quite a few guys to this point, and they were all the same, nice enough guys, but they were into themselves, and our relationship was never a partnership. Everything with them came first, I came second!  I would ask myself, what did I need that for?? Look at me, I am in the most fantastic city in the world, on my own, living the Mary Richards life – without the sunk-in living room of course!

At this point, I was a bit frustrated with my job, mostly because there was no one to hang out with after work.  Every day as I walked out of my office, I could see the Twin Towers, majestically standing above the clouds. I decided I want a part-time job at night, maybe as a hostess so I could be with people my own age.  So I went to the World Trade Center and Windows on the World and applied for a job. However, they did not have an opening at the moment, but they did at one of their other restaurants near Broadway. I told the woman sure, I’ll go, and the next day I got the job as a hostess at Cafe 43, the old Rosoff’s Hotel, which was a speakeasy in the 1930s.  That night I was introduced to the staff, and there standing in the middle of the kitchen was a Sous Chef who was introduced to me as Keith! I must say, that I did immediately notice how cute he was, with a very thick dark brown beard, beautiful kind eyes, sexy as hell and extremely tall, with his toque (Chef hat) he looked 7ft, he was the giant in the room!

It was June of 1986, and I knew I was going to love this job, right in the heart of Broadway!  The first night that I worked there, I was being shown the ropes entered the kitchen, I met the rest of the staff for both the front and back of the house!  My night went pretty smoothly for a 180 seat restaurant, the primary service was always just before the Broadway shows when this very tall guy walked in and asked me how I was doing?  I said I was great, a table for 2 (which I said as a question because he was alone). He said you don’t remember me, I’m crushed, we met 2 days ago? I took a step back and realized that this guy was the Sous Chef I met, the giant in the room!  He looked entirely different, he had long hair, that went down his back, that had a blonde streak through it, he had 3 earrings in left ear and one in his right. He had 2 different color converse sneakers on, one green, one red, he had a chain that hugged his hip, that went from a belt loop to his back pocket (attached to his wallet), the worst Musk Cologne EVER and oh yeah a fedora to top it all!  He was still sexy as hell, and he still had his beautiful kind eyes! I looked at him and said, do you come to work often on your day off, and he told me that it is your first day, I wanted to make sure you got off on the right foot! From that moment, we were instant buds!

Every time I worked, after service, instead of going home, he would come to the dining room and sit with me until I closed the restaurant, every single time!  He was quite the flirt, but I just loved sitting and speaking with him, because for the first time I actually found someone that talked my talk! He was extremely intelligent he told me he read every volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and I was like yeah, sure who would do that!  (Later, I found out he honestly did!) He did not make me feel small, he would hang on every word I said. I really felt so free to tell him things I never told anyone, like how much I hated guys at work calling me honey, or how I felt about politics, or how I felt about the homeless situation in the city!  He had the same philosophies on life and even more intense because he truly lived the NYC life! He had a way of making me feel like I was the MOST important person in the room.

He was so polar opposite from the other guys I dated, I dated more the Yuppies types, and I was a Yuppie with my Harvey Bernard tailored suits and stiletto heels.  He was a Hippie, t-shirt, and jeans were all he needed. Even though we seemingly had nothing in common, the more we talked, the more we had so much in common. I was a disco queen, 1977, 78, 79, he was heavy into the Grateful Dead.  Pat Benatar was my hero, John Lennon was his! The more we talked about music, the more we realized that our common ground in music was the Beatles, we both, loved the Beatles, and that made the Disco thing ok with him!

Over the next few months, we had such a great time!  He would write fictitious names in the reservation book, and he would be the one to show up for the reservation on his days off!  I would tell him that he was such a jerk, and he started to write encrypted messages in the reservation book sign SAJerk! I would just shake my head,  I would constantly tell him that he was not funny, he would quip, me???? Everyone thinks I’m hysterical, to that I would reply, well not me, with that he would just give me a wink!

He would constantly ask me out, and I would flatly say no!  We have a good thing here, why ruin it! Plus, I do not date people I work with, I have been there, done that and it never ends well!  Besides, I told him, you flirt with everyone here, I am no different! He said ok Sure!

In December, Keith’s brother Randy and his new girlfriend, Joyce had come to the restaurant, and Keith sat at a table with them!  I would go over in between seating people, we laughed and had a great time! After a while, Joyce said are you too dating, I must have looked at her in horror, and said, NOOOO!!!  Keith just shook his head! I was mortified at the thought, I work with him, I do not date ANYONE I work with! It definitely shocked me, do people think that I am dating this guy???  HOLY CRAP!!!!

On New Year’s Eve, our restaurant was right off Times Square, just before Midnight all the staff headed up to the roof to watch the ball drop!  It was quite thrilling, as we watched hundreds of thousands of people below getting ready for 1987 to arrive! We had bottles of champagne, and everyone was feeling great!  Once everything died down, the rest of the crew started to head back in. I was still leaning over the edge of the roof looking down, loving every minute. Suddenly I realized that Keith and I are the only ones on the roof, and the tension you could cut with a knife!  I could sense his closeness, and I knew right then and there that he wanted to kiss me! I was not having it, I said, ok time to go back in! I did an about-face heading back into the restaurant, leaving Keith standing at the building’s edge!

As the months passed, Keith’s flirting got more revved up, I was nervous, but loved it at the same time!  I would tell him to stay home on his day off, but at the same time hoping he would completely ignore me – which he always did!  I found myself, looking for the messages in the reservations book, I found myself, leaving my other job early to go to Cafe 43 early!  I kept saying to myself, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING??? I don’t need this man! I don’t want to lose my independence, but I also did not want him not to show up!  We have become best Buddies, why do I want to ruin this!!!

Then on Friday, April 17th, after work, we were supposed to meet some co-workers for a drink after the shift!  Keith said he would meet me at the restaurant across the street called Century Cafe. I closed the restaurant and headed over, and Keith was the only one at the bar!  I asked where everyone was, he said he didn’t know, so I sat down. We talked and talked until 2 in the morning when we realized that NO ONE showed up! I told Keith I need to go home and he said I will walk you to get a cab on 6th Ave.  As we were strolling up the block, he stopped and grabbed me and pulled me towards him and kissed me – an extremely passionate kiss, all-consuming kiss, a kiss that I felt to my toes, a kiss that changed everything, he didn’t just kiss me, he kissed me to my soul!  

The next day we went to work together, I told him, ok, but I want NO ONE to know what just happened, I still am trying to figure this out, but I do not want to be gossip!  He agreed, and we walked in separately! We did this for many many months but as the months went by our relationship got so much more intense! By July we knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.  We started to tell a couple of people at the cafe that we were together and their reaction was funny! Everyone already knew, they told us, they were waiting for us to catch up!

Keith and I got engaged in September and married on November 27, 1987!  From New Years till November our fates were sealed. We were seemingly opposite to many people, we were the couple that would walk in the room, and people would say, how did THOSE two get together!  But we didn’t care, we always let each other be ourselves. Only once did I try to change the way he dressed, it was going to a family function, and I bought him a nice button down shirt, pants and shoes, no sneakers.  He lovingly obliged and we went to the party, but at one point I noticed him trying to discreetly pull at his collar, and trying to stretch his neck, I was horrified when I realized that he was uncomfortable, and I was the one that made him uncomfortable!  I ran up to him and told him I am so sorry, I will never do that to you again. I don’t care about the sneakers or the button down shirts, I love you for who you are – not what you are wearing! I never did again. Oh, he did wear suits to weddings and funerals, but we always had sneakers in the car!

Over the next 30 years, we had the best relationship!  We always came first, no matter what happened, if we could not fix or help ourselves, we were no good to anyone!  That is how we lived our lives. This is not to say that life was not hard, life was VERY hard, but we stayed focused on us, and we tried never to take the special love that we shared for granted.  We both had open minds about everything, Keith often said that he brought me to the edge and I kept him from falling off! We often spoke about the near rooftop kiss and the kiss that rocked our world on 43rd St.  We were absolutely right for each other, and we so grateful for our beautiful life! Happy 31st Anniversary Babe, our first not together, I love and miss you so much! xo

The Best Thanksgiving EVER!

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The week of Thanksgiving in 1997, Keith had an emergency appendectomy, his appendix ruptured, and he got peritonitis, so his recovery took longer than usual!  Keith was an amazing Chef, and he was, in fact, the only one who could cook in the house! In 1989, after I cooked my first meal for him, (we were already married a year) he had threatened to put crime scene tape around the kitchen after our new puppy would not even touch it!  That was perfectly fine with me!

So you can imagine we were in a little panic as to how we were going to have Thanksgiving Dinner, our absolute favorite holiday, with Keith unable to get off the couch!!!  So I told Keith, ok we can still do this, you can talk me through it, and Justin, who was about 16, and had worked with his father on catering events, was even more prepared than I was to help make this glorious meal!  It would truly be a bonding experience for Justin and me!

The day before, we prepped all the food, even Kellie, who was only 5 at the time, was cleaning vegetables and setting the table!  Then the day of truth, the Jaret household was a buzz of screaming and yelling, “You’re not doing it right” to, “damn I burned the carrots.”  Keith who was laying on the couch listening, smiling saying this is music to my ears! We did not want him to get off the couch so each time we needed Keith to check the turkey, we would bring it to him!  We would carry it from the kitchen to the living room, Justin holding one side me the other, for Keith to touch it to say, needs more time – or perfect, we probably carried it back and forth about 6 or 7 times (we were thrilled when he gave a thumbs up and said perfect)!  Also as a tradition in our house, at 12:00, the radio played Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant! In all the years of living with this man, I never understood the thrill of Alice’s Restaurant, but even this particular year when he was NOT the chef, we all had to listen to it!

When my brother Sean heard that we were still having Thanksgiving Dinner and that I was cooking it, he said, well if Maureen is making dinner, then I will make pies (he never made pies before)!  

When we finally sat down for Dinner, we all laughed and ate and had a truly wonderful time!  It was the first and only time that Keith did not make the dinner. Truth be told, Justin was truly the hero in this, he had a more understanding of how to do this, he stepped up to the plate and we had a wonderful meal!  Sean’s pies were amazing too! Keith always said that it was his all-time favorite Thanksgiving, watching his son and wife bond in the kitchen, he said it was the best meal he ever ate!

So with this being my first Thanksgiving with him, realizing that I will never again have a Thanksgiving Dinner, that Keith makes.  I will learn to love the holiday again, I hope! But someone will still have to make the dinner! I am getting ready to listen to Arlo singing Alice’s Restaurant and bask in the wonderful memories that I have!  Happy Thanksgiving Everyone, I am grateful for all of your support!

Wind Beneath Our Wings

heart and flowers

 

Keith and I had our first child together, our daughter Megan, on February 26, 1990.  After three weeks, we discovered she was in congestive heart failure, she had an enlargement of her heart called Cardiomyopathy and she was put on many different medications, to help her heart, beat efficiently.  When she was only 7 months old, however, she suffered a massive heart attack and a stroke, and that was when we were told that she needed a Heart Transplant. Those words echoed to our very core, we knew how difficult it was to get a donor heart for an adult, but a child!!!  We were terrified, to say the least, but we were on a mission.

They transferred her to St Christopher’s in Philadelphia, where they put her on the Transplant list, right away.  However, 3 weeks later they took her off the list! We were stunned!!! THEY decided that as a result of her stroke, they considered her a vegetable and that she would not walk, talk or see again.  THEY felt that her quality of life would not meet their expectations for her to receive the heart! The next day we left the hospital and undaunted, we got a physical therapist that worked with us to get Megan physically and mentally strong so we could reinstate her on the National Transplant List.

Four months later, we brought her to Columbia Presbyterian in NYC and met Dr. Linda Addonizio, the Pediatric Cardiologist.  She ran a series of tests and determined that she was a perfect candidate for a Heart Transplant! They put her back on the list, and she was immediately listed as the Number One child in the country.  Now the wait…we knew that another Mother and Father would have to lose their child, and be willing to donate their child’s organs for Meg to live. The horror of that was overwhelming!! We waited nearly a year, and when Megan was 18 months old, the call finally came…

On Friday, September 13, 1991, I had gone to a local business called ABB Lummus, in Bloomfield NJ. They had raised money for Megan, (through a fund that was started by our friend Scott Harvin) and asked me to come with Megan and meet everyone.  We stayed about an hour when I got this sudden rush over me to go home. I told Catherine Loreto the woman that organized this event, I must go home – Now! I was not in the house for 5 minutes, when I got this call. It was Dr. Addonizio, she asked me how Meg was doing, and what was I doing, and I told her we just came home because I had an overwhelming feeling that she was going to call me.  She said that my instincts were right – “We have a heart, are you ready.” I started crying – all of a sudden I didn’t want the heart. I was not ready…I now feared the surgery…I wanted to tell her…”We can wait for the next one”. I knew; however, this is the only one, I asked her, how long before we need to be there, she told me no more than 2 hours!

There were no cell phones back then, Keith was on his way home, and he would not be home for an hour…OMG!!!  I was crying for joy and fear at the same time. I made all my calls, to my sister Kathleen, cousin Laurine, and my parents, some friends, and Scott, with each call I was barely able to get the words out…When Keith finally got home, I remember waiting at the door for him.  I was crying, and he came running up not knowing why I was crying. “It is here, the Heart is here!!” We just hugged and cried, saddened for the mother that just lost her child but at the same time strangely elated.

Megan was The 1991 NJ State PBA Poster Child,  so we got a police escort to Columbia Presbyterian.  It was 4:00 pm on a Friday afternoon, normally it probably would have taken two hours to get there, but we got there in half an hour.  When we got to the Peds Cardiac Unit, they took Megan right away to do the final testing to make sure everything was a match. The only thing we were told was that the heart came from a three-year-old boy from Long Island.  Megan was in a great mood, Keith’s brother, Randy and his wife Joyce, joined us at the hospital. The doctors gave us a room so we could spend some time with Megan, before the surgery. This was such a great time, we were having so much fun with her.  The Drs told us that she was physically ready for the surgery, she was strong and in “good” health that they felt she will do great. It was now midnight, we were very happy that the surgery was not on Friday the 13th, even though I am not a superstitious person, we wanted all the luck on her side.

The Drs came in and told us…it is time. All of a sudden, there was this fear that was gripping us, they let us take her down the hall to the Operating Room entrance, when we placed her on the gurney, she started to cry as they wheeled her away, and the doors closed, we could hear her cries as she was being wheeled into the OR.  Keith and I just held onto each other and sobbed. At 2:00 am, they told us that surgery had begun, and for over two hours we were making idle, nervous chit-chat, when Dr. Addonizio and Dr. Michler came out of these large swinging doors, they were practically floating on air. Dr. Addonizio had the biggest smile on her face and told us – she did great!!!  It was a huge success!! They are so happy, the hallway erupted with hugs and laughter. Keith and I couldn’t wait to see her, but they told us it was going to be quite a few hours before they would let us see her. They told us to go home and get some rest, but rest, was not on the agenda, packing and getting ready for a long stay at the hospital was.

We got back to the hospital at around 12, they still were not ready for us, but it would not be for long.  They started to prepare us for what we were going to see, even though I had read a lot of literature on the surgery and had seen many hospital shows I thought that I was fully prepared.  I was not!!!!

As we got close, we could see the ventilator and all kinds of machines. Her bed was actually facing with her head towards the door, so we had to move around the devices, and we did not see her at first until we turned around.  It was stunning!!! There on this huge bed was our beautiful tiny daughter, with all kinds of tubes coming out of her body. She was still heavily sedated, and I was grateful, Keith and I just started sobbing. The first thing we noticed was how pink her skin was.  She never had a pink complexion, it was always grey. Pink what a beautiful color!!!! We knew we did the right thing!

Dr. Addonizio came by to speak with us and told us that Megan was the most successful pediatric heart transplant in Columbia Presbyterian history, she was their 20th transplant.  My thought – 20 what a wonderful number….she proceeded to explain what the next few days were going to entail. Like what will happen when she wakes up, and how they were hoping to take her off all the machines, and out of ICU after 5 days if everything goes well.  At the hospital with us was my parents, my sister, and brothers, my cousin, and Keith’s brother and sister-in-law.

It took Megan a few hours to wake up, but when she did, she was still hooked up to the ventilator, but she gave me a stared down, as if to say, what the hell did you do to me?  Of course, Keith was totally immune to any of this, all she wanted was Daddy. Mommy was mean, look what she did to me. The doctors took her off the ventilator within a few hours of when she woke up…they wanted to make sure that her breathing was not labored, that would put a strain on the heart.  What a huge difference that made. Even though she was on pain medication, Dr. Addonizio said that she was not on heavy doses. She was in Pediatric ICU, so, therefore, we could not be next to her all night long, so Keith and I took turns going back and forth from the waiting room to her bed!! We kept checking on her to make sure this is real!!!

Well, Megan broke all records getting out of ICU, the doctors were so impressed.  She was on the Peds floor, by Monday afternoon. She was remarkable, she was so strong, she could hold herself up for long periods of time, and she knew that she was different.  Her whole right side no longer showed any evidence of the stroke. She was in her walker going up and down the halls on Tuesday morning, greeting all the other patients, there was no stopping her now!!

Every day, she would be getting stronger and stronger.  The doctors took tests every day to make sure there was no rejection or infection.  They really felt that she would be going home within a week. They were astonished, to say the least.  Then it happened, she woke up one morning with a fever. They immediately put her on antibiotics and took more tests, and you could see that she just was not feeling well.  On Saturday, September 28, my birthday, they gave us the news. Megan has a very rare infection, it is an infection that patients that have metal things implanted in them would get, such as a pacemaker. They could not figure out how Meg got this.  We asked them if they possibly left something in her, and they said no.

The next two weeks were very frustrating and exhausting.  I was sleeping on a chair that pulled out to a cot and Keith was down the block at the Ronald McDonald House in Washington Heights.  Neither of us was sleeping at all. Megan had good days and bad days. The doctors put her on heavy antibiotics to get rid of the infection, but it was a long process.  They finally told us on October 8, that she could go home the next day and they would give us the antibiotics and keep her on them for another 10 days. We were so thrilled that she could finally go home.  That we could all finally go home.

When we got there, we were greeted by all our friends and neighbors, they had a huge banner and a gigantic heart balloon for her.  We walked into our home for the first time in nearly a month, and we were elated.

Every day we watched as Megan was building up her strength, doing things that doctors in Philadelphia told us she would never do.  On October 17th, Keith and I were taking pictures of her, and for the first time, she started to walk, she was pushing her little shopping cart, walking around the house, and loving it…!!!!

That night getting her down was a little tough, because all she wanted to do was walk around the house.  She woke up at 2:00 am, and she seemed a little off, she just kind of looked at me in a very odd way. I asked her what was wrong, she started to moan, so I just cradled her and rocked her back to sleep.  

At 8:00 am, I woke up to a frightening sound, she let out a scream (Keith was already at work), I ran to her room and picked her up.  Something was wrong, terribly wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I called the Dr. and she asked me if it seemed like before, was she having a heart attack.  I said I didn’t think so, but I was scared, she told me to get here in right away. I met Keith at the hospital, and they took Megan away for a short time. They had us bring her to get a cat scan, and while we were waiting, Megan started to deteriorate, very quickly.  She was brought back up to the Peds Unit, the cardiologists were checking her in a separate room from us, all of a sudden we heard, Code Blue and I swear 50 Drs and nurses went running into Meg’s Room. It is now 3:00 pm, Dr. Addondizo, came out and told us that Meg went into Cardiac Arrest with 3 cardiologists right there and they were able to revive her. She told us that she was not sure what was going on with Meg, but she told us that her body is NOT rejecting the heart, because, despite the arrest, her heart was strong.  She went back into Meg’s room, and we did not see anyone for about an hour. When Dr. Addondizo came out again she gave us the shocking news that Meg had two more cardiac arrests and she is now in a coma.

The next 5 days are really a blur, I really don’t know if anyone of our friends or family, who came to the hospital will be able to recall much of it.  Megan was in a coma for the entire time. We were cat napping in the waiting room, night and day, and then on Wednesday, October 23, 1991, the nurse came out to tell us that they had isolated the virus that was ravishing her body and now they were bombarding her with heavy, medications.  There was a sense of relief – a little, she has been through so much…she is absolutely going to come through this…we have plans for her!!!!

All day was very tense and so ironic because it was a beautiful sunny, crisp fall day, but inside was very dark and getting darker.  At around 3:20 pm Dr. Addondizo came out crying, she said there is nothing more we can do…Megan has had 2 more arrests, and her body is shutting down, you need to come in and say goodbye.

Keith and I just hugged each other crying and silently walked into the ICU, immediately we were stunned at her appearance.  She was very bloated from all the fluids that they had pumped into her, to try and save her life, I went to one side, Keith to her other side. They had an oxygen bag over her, and the machines were all beeping.  Keith started whispering to her right away. I was kissing her head! We did not even need to discuss what we each did next, we just knew! I turned to Dr. Addonizo and said please stop, Just Stop! She looked at me and then I looked at Keith, we were hugging and kissing her, Keith had been telling her that it is ok to let go, we did not want her to fight anymore, mommy and daddy will miss her terribly, but we do not want her to suffer anymore!  As he finished the machines stopped, it was 3:30 pm! There was complete silence, except for the quiet sobs, from family, friends and the doctors and nurses. Our beautiful little girl, who fought for her life since the day she was born, got the heart transplant that she so needed was no longer with us! We were devastated!  She was 19 months, 27 days!

Many people have asked me over the years, she didn’t survive, was it worth it, would you do it again, would you have Megan go through with the transplant, knowing that it was not successful!  I tell them, in fact, it was so amazingly successful, our daughter got to live for 6 weeks, holding her head high. Walking when other doctors, told us she was a vegetable, and that she would never walk, talk or see again.  Through the selfless act of a mother who just lost her child, she gave our daughter Megan, the greatest gift of all – LIFE! It was the most successful pediatric heart transplant in the history of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, at that time…She proved to them that, she absolutely deserved the chance, life was absolutely worth living, if even only for a short while!

That was 27 years ago today, and this is the first time I am grieving without Keith by my side.  On this day we always held each other a little closer!  We always visited her gravesite together, this is the first time that I will do it alone!  I do have some comfort however, I believe that Megan and Keith are together, and I would love to think they are with the little boy that saved her life, that gives me so much solace!

During the entire time Meg was here, the song Wind Beneath My Wings was the anthem for us, it gave us strength and courage to go forward every day, and after she passed, she became the Wind Beneath OUR Wings!

Grief is Not Grief

 

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Grief in a word is Difficult!  It is Difficult to explain, Difficult to describe, Difficult to go through, and Difficult to watch someone you care about to go through it!  But grief is a very personal thing, some people think that it is love, others believe it is darkness!  Many people believe that they can fix you, and others like to equate their grief with yours.  If they lost a sibling or a parent, they feel they understand your loss of a child because the grief must match yours, it is the same!  Grief is Grief – right?  No, Grief is not Grief!

I am by nature strong woman; I am not the person who would go to counseling of any kind, because I work through it myself!  When our daughter Megan died, our grief was so overwhelming, so consuming.  We had to stop the life-sustaining machines that were keeping her alive, and it was so incredibly heartbreaking!  I will tell her whole story at another time!  The pain was immediate, it was gut-wrenching, it was all consuming, and it was profound!!  What I remember the most about it – was all I did was sob!  When we were making the arrangements, Keith and I were zombies, the funeral director was speaking, but we could hear no words.  He took us to pick out a casket, and there was nothing any more surreal than having to decide how to bury our child!! He said to us “Of course you want the best for your daughter?” Of course, we did, so he proceeded to show us, three models!  We have the economy model, some sort of heavy-duty cardboard that was $1,000, but you don’t want that – bugs get inside!  The next model was a sturdy white wooden casket that was $3,000, less chance of bugs getting inside or the golden model – a golden casket that was $6,000 with this model bugs will never get in!!!  Well, as disgusting as this was, this was his pitch to us – we could not afford the golden model, we really could only afford the $1,000 model, but the thought of our child not being protected horrified us, so we went with the $3,000 model!  (Just a side note – years later we found out that it didn’t matter one from the other – you cannot stop the bugs) I remember saying to Keith, why are we here??

During the wake, people actually came up to us and would say things like, “you know, 99% percent of all marriages break up after the loss of a child”, or “you now have an angel watching out for you” or my favorite, “you are young, you can have more children”, REALLY?!?!?

When everyone went home, and we were all alone, we discovered that we were both grieving so differently.  I was usually the strong one, let’s get things done, kind of person, but when Meg died, I shut down – completely!  Keith, on the other hand, who was usually the more reflective one, and could sit quietly for long periods of time, he was almost manic, in everything he did.  He was so hyper it was virtually dizzying!  Everyone tended to gravitate toward me because I was the mother, and the “public” opinion was that he is strong, he can handle it!  Sadly the dads are in as much pain, in fact, we were both drowning!  No one within our immediate family or friends had lost a child, we were at a place no one could relate to, no one could fathom, no one ever wanted to be!  And worst of all No One could really understand, they tried, but we were alone in this!!

One day I was so depressed, I could barely put one foot in front of me, I was driving my car and came to an intersection where the light was red, with no car in front of me!  As I approached, I had more than a split second to decide that the truck that would be barrelling through the intersection, about the same time I get to it, would help me to end it all in one clean fashion!  However, at that moment, I only thought of Keith, and I knew that it would absolutely devastate him if he had lost me too!  So, I put my brakes on and stopped at the light!  I decided I would never tell him!

Since neither of us knew how to deal with this overwhelming grief, I thought we should go to a Parent Bereavement Support Group.  Keith did not want to go, but I asked him, and he came only for me!  When we got there, the room was full of people mostly women.  We sat around a table, and each of the parents told their heartbreaking stories.  When they got to us, I told our story about Megan’s life.  The woman next to me had also lost a daughter at 33 years old about two years prior.  She proceeded to tell us that she loved her daughter longer and that her grief was worse since I only had my daughter for only 19 months and 27 days!  I couldn’t believe that this is what she was saying.  How can your grief be more significant than mine!  I started to argue with her, and I was getting so mad, that was when Keith got up and said, let’s go – we never went back again!!!!

Even though it was utterly upsetting, it helped us to realize that everyone grieves differently, and so do we, we promised to pay attention to each other and give each other lots of hugs and space!  However, we did not tiptoe around each other either, if one of us were having a particularly rough day, we would be there for the other, we would listen to each other, and more importantly, we would embrace each other as if the world would fall apart if we let go!!!

We kept the world out because everyone was trying to fix us, with cliches like  “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” “God gives us lessons in life and sometimes we won’t know the why only God knows the why”!  These statements only made us angry; they were not comforting.  My reaction was “Fuck God, what kind of a God would give our beautiful daughter the new heart that she so desperately needed only to take her away six weeks later!!!”  Growing up Irish Catholic, I have struggled with God, since I was 14, but now it is magnified since Meg died!  My cousin Laurine, who is a soul healer (I only found out about this after Keith died, because she knew how I felt about things) is trying to help me – but that is a much bigger story!

I was so grateful to so many friends and family, each one, in their own way trying to comfort Keith and me as much as they could.  One day, my lifelong friend Diane called me, she happened to be pregnant at the time with her first child.  I answered the phone, she said, hi how are you? and for the next 45 minutes, I proceeded to cry in her ear.   No words could come out, I just sobbed!  Diane stayed on the phone, and I do not think she said a word, she just listened to me cry!  When I was done, I told her that I needed to go, and we hung up!  Many years later I told her how grateful I was for just being able to cry and her not telling me it will be alright!  She called me all the time and does not remember this call, but it stayed with me forever!

As we were trying to navigate the heaviness and sorrow that we were feeling, I had gotten pregnant 3 weeks after the funeral, I said Keith had a lot of energy!  I knew immediately that I was pregnant (I knew it with Megan as well) and I was freaked out, to say the least.  I was deep in this hell, and I had a hard time grappling with the loss of Meg, and now I was pregnant?!?!?!  I told my sister first because I knew if I told Keith, he would have been happy, and I didn’t know if I could handle that!  I think I cried on the phone for 20 minutes before I could get it out!  I really did not know if I wanted to keep this child, I was so distraught, how can I love another child like I loved Meg??  How horribly unfair to her memory, if I have this child!!!  How can I even go through this pregnancy with all the angst and sorrow I feel!  And the most important of all, since they could never really explain to us how Megan got sick, I was utterly stricken with fear, that this baby would be ill as well.  When I finally told Keith a few days later, he said to me, well, we have some time to make a decision, let’s just take it one day at a time, we still haven’t even taken the test yet, it is too early!

Two weeks later, we were sitting in the living room as the timer went off, and we both sat there not moving.  About a half an hour later, we got up and walked to the bathroom, and there it was, positive!!!!  We both started to cry, and I said I don’t know if I can do this!  Keith said to me can I tell you what I have observed in the last couple of weeks?  I noticed that you stopped taking the Ativan, (the Dr. gave it to me to help me sleep), I noticed that you cut back on your tea intake (I drink massive amounts of tea), and I also noticed that you are eating better!!!  I sat in silence for almost an hour letting it sink it what he was saying, and finally, I said, ok, so I guess we are having a baby!  It was hard to smile or feel joyous, but I did feel relief!  It was still terrifying, the birth was a long way away, but as we stood together we knew we would get through this – together!

On August 10th after an extremely stressful pregnancy, and going through every possible test at that time, I gave birth to our beautiful, healthy new daughter, Kellie, and even though our hearts were still with our Megan, we learned to live with her always in our hearts.  Kellie grew up always knowing about Megan.  Keith’s son and daughter were 13 and 10 at the time and lived in Florida, but we saw them twice a year.  They got to know Meg and understood that she was sick, but when Meg died, and even though Keith so desperately wanted them by his side – it was impossible to get them up for the funeral! But it deeply impacted their young lives as well, especially Justin!

As the years went by, one day I decided to tell Keith about my encounter with that 18 wheeler, and he looked at me and started to cry!  He told me the only reason “I stopped myself from ending it all, was because of YOU – I knew that I could never do that to YOU!” We both just stared at each other for a really long time, we could not believe that we both had these thoughts and never told each other until now!!  We talked into the night, and we knew how so very lucky we were to have each other!!

On February 8, 2018, exactly 26 years, three months and 16 days, or a total of 9605 days, after we lost our beautiful daughter, my favorite person in the entire world, the pure love of my life died.  But this time, I was grieving alone!  Of course, everyone around me was grieving, my children, my family, and our friends.  But, this has proven to be very lonely, very scary and very debilitating!

The first night after Keith died, I came home and sat on my couch, and I really did not move for nearly 10 hours.  I did not turn the television on, I just sat there, I couldn’t move, and I didn’t want to move.  Kellie was the opposite, just like her dad, she could not sit still.  She actually said she read something that said that people grief opposite their personalities.  I immediately knew that was right, having been through what I thought was my worst nightmare and now grieving again, I could feel some of the same emotions.  Almost every night, I did the same thing. I really did not want to speak with anyone, I didn’t want anyone to come to my house. I just wanted to be alone, and for the first time in 31 years, I was completely alone!  I didn’t want to speak with anyone, and if I did only through texts, and that was only if I felt like answering.  During the day, I had to work to keep the business going, but during the night, I locked the door and shut the world out!  My beautiful sister-in-law, Laura had lost her husband 18 months earlier, and she became a wonderful guide for me to at least help me to know what I might expect.

Sadly 17 days after Keith’s death, a friend of mine in town, lost her husband.  Mona’s husband Jim had cancer, but he was done with Chemo and doing so much better,  Mona, Jim, and their children began to feel safe to start thinking of the future again, but then tragedy suddenly struck, Jim after a complication following emergency surgery, died!!  Stunning!!!  Just as Mona came to Keith’s wake, I went to Jim’s.  It was at the same funeral home, but I knew that I needed to be there for her!!  My heart was breaking for her because I knew exactly where she was at this moment in time!

I was able to keep myself very busy during the day, taking care of matters and work, and just trying to keep things running.  This went on for 6 weeks until I decided to close the business because I did not, and more importantly I could not do it without Keith!  That first couple of months, I was in an automatic mode if you will, I was heartbroken, but I was moving. However, once I stopped, I was overwhelmed with the gut-wrenching pain I was feeling.  The heaviness began to set in, the sadness and pain were profound and insurmountable.  I was completely alone!!!  Of course, I have had so many loving people around me, the kids, my sister, cousin, family, and friends, but I did not want anyone around.  I didn’t want to speak with anyone, it took too much energy!  Everyone wanted to know if I was ok, I was not, but I said I was!

For the first month or so I tried to be active, getting up, taking a shower, looking for a job, cleaning my house, taking care of Bailey!  But as the days and months went by, those activities became quite a struggle!  I was not sleeping, how could I, my lover, my partner, my friend is no longer by my side!!  He laid next to me for the past 31 years, and now he is not there.  My bed is empty, I still lay on my side of the bed as if he is there. I would wash my sheets and find it so bizarre that I am cleaning a pillowcase for a pillow that was never laid on!  Sometimes I cry myself to sleep, and other times I just lay awake afraid to shut the light off because I have become acutely aware of how alone I am!  Even with Kellie in the next room!

Keith and I were truly one!  We loved our togetherness!  We worked, slept, ate and went to the grocery store together!  We would work all day together, get in the car, get home and walk Bailey!  We were not freaks, it just so easy for us to be together.  We were able to give to each other like no one else could!!  Life around us was hard, very hard, but our life together never was!!  That is what makes this so difficult for me to move forward, the hardest part is learning to live without him in my life!  The hollowness, the profound sadness, the future feels so dark and bleak.  It is so paralyzing and difficult to leave the house to even look for a job.

Many times, I would wake up and genuinely wish I didn’t wake up.  I would get up, take a shower and decide that I was going out to look for a job today!!!  But instead, I would take a shower, go sit on the couch, and only get up to take Bailey out!  Poor Bailey, I was walking him 5 to 6 miles a day.

So many times, people would say to us over the years, that they could not imagine losing their child, and it is true that there is nothing like it at all!  But I have lost a child and my husband!  I have lost half of my family!  When Meg died, we had each other to hang on to, we supported each other, we cried to sleep together, we cried during the day together, we held each other up!  We were the support for each other to get up, get dressed, get going!  Now there is nothing!  My sister cannot help me, my cousin cannot help me, my children cannot help me!  I am alone! I do not do alone well, Keith loved his alone time, me – not so much!  Now I am always alone, even when I am not!  I have had a lot of love from family, friends, and acquaintances that tell me that Keith is still with me, but that is not a comfort, it makes me angry!!!  He is not holding me, he is not talking to me, he is not comforting to me!!!  All I feel is the emptiness. I have become a hollow shell of myself, I have lost myself, my soul, my confidence and I really could care less to find it!  I even started thinking that I was unable to take care of Bailey, and began contemplating putting him up for adoption because it was just so hard!

I tried to go to the grocery store, late at night so I did not have to see people.  One of two things would happen, I would see someone and they would look down, because they did not want to speak with me, or they would come up and hug me and say things like, it is time to start cheering up!  Or yes, unbelievably, you are young Keith would never want you to be alone!!!!  REALLY People!?!?!?!

Speaking with Mona, I think has helped us both, because I know exactly where she is going, like no other.  We started texting, but then went to lunch and would just cry, and listen, and because NO ONE else knew how we were feeling, at this very moment.    Mona’s grief is the same, yet different than mine, she has three children, two adults and a 13-year-old daughter at home that needs her mother.  Mona needs to be strong especially for her.  Yes, she will mourn together along with her other children, but she cannot sit on the couch and cry all day, her daughter needs to go to school, and after-school activities and go to sleepovers.  Mona’s oldest daughter was getting married in May.  I said to her OMG!  How are you doing this???  I cannot!  I so admire Mona, she has strength well beyond me!

Sure, many people have lost their spouse or significant other, but their experience is not mine.  And if it happened several years ago, you can remember how you felt, and it brings back the pain, but you are in a different place.  Sadly soo many people I know have lost children since Meg, I would never say to them, I know how you feel because I do not!  I lost my child, I understand that, but I do not know how you feel.  I can reach out and say – I am here if you need a shoulder to cry on!  I can possibly guide you, but I do not know what you are going through!  My friend Patty had lost her son, 10 years ago, we had been out of touch for many years, and because of Facebook, reconnected.  I tried to guide her but did not want to in any way diminish her pain.  We were in two different places, but still shared the pain of losing a child.  My sister-in-law Laura has been my beacon for what I should expect, and for the most part, she had to relive her own heartache, yet Keith was her big brother, she is in her own sadness, and grieving differently than I am, but yet very similar!

Last night, my stepson Justin called, and after about a half an hour of me being emotional about not finding a job, he said to me,  “what has happened to my strong, confident stepmom? The woman who picked herself up every single time and became stronger and more confident!!”  I told him she died, he said no she is hiding!  It was kind of a kick in the ass, bringing me to reality!  I realized that he was right, although, I will not be flexing my biceps anytime soon.  It really made me begin to stop feeling sorry for myself.  I realized that Keith would be so disappointed in how I am acting!  Today, I slowly started to move in at least a forward motion.  Hopefully, as I put one foot in front of the other, and yes with Bailey by my side, the darkness will lighten up, and the hollowness will start to close!  I have been a Phoenix most of my life, the Phoenix will rise again, but I truly hope this is the last time I have to do this!

 

For the Love of Our Human

 

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When we lose the most important person in our lives, we as humans all grieve differently and need time to heal.  So do our animals, this is the story of how our puppy dealt with the loss of his favorite human, Keith!

Our daughter, Kellie, had been sending Keith and I pictures of this dog, a small black Labrador-Beagle mix.  She was telling us how adorable he was, but he was living in a terrible situation. “He needs a home, our home, we have to rescue him!!!” Keith and I owned a business. We were so busy, that the thought of having to care and be responsible for a dog was just too daunting, even though, mind you, we love animals, and have had both, dogs and cats in our lives.  We told Kellie that it was just impossible, a puppy is so much work.  As much as we were saddened for his situation, bringing him into a home where he would be alone all day, just didn’t seem any better!

Kellie had a different idea, however.  She decided to let us see for ourselves.  One evening, she brought him to our home.  I’m sure you know where this is going!!!  After about 30 seconds, Keith was on the floor playing with this adorable 4-month-old puppy and fell in love.  It took a little more convincing on my part “How are we going to manage this?” Keith replied, “As we do with everything else, we will figure it out!!”

On that day, December 14, 2016, George “Bailey” came into our lives. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of our family’s favorite movies, and we knew it was right.  Bailey did too!

Bailey and Keith became instant best buds.  Wherever Keith went, Bailey had to be there, too!  Since Keith was a chef, you could always find the two of them in the kitchen.  Bailey was happily awaiting anything that might happen to fall off the cutting board.

The two of them loved taking long walks together, and with Keith being 6’4″ and having very long strides, Bailey, only four months, happily kept up the pace.  When I would come home the three of us would take long strolls during the evenings, it was one of our favorite things to do.  Bailey loved the pack walks; as long as his favorite human came along.  At the end of the night, Bailey always jumped into our bed; snuggling between us.

One year later, Christmas 2017, Keith was not feeling well.  So much so that we took him to the hospital the next day, where we received devastating news.  Keith had a tumor on his liver and needed a liver transplant.

Bailey saw me leave with Keith that morning and when I didn’t come back home with him, he was confused and miserable!  That night, I could not find him, he was hiding from me under Kellie’s bed, and he ended up sleeping in her room all night long!

Keith came home about ten days later, but he was frail.  We did not want Bailey jumping on him and overwhelming either of them.  So while I was bringing Keith into the house, Kellie brought Bailey out through the back door.  Once I got Keith settled, I texted Kellie to bring him in.  It was like something out of the videos you see on YouTube.  Before Bailey saw him, he knew Keith was home and practically torn Kellie’s arm off, as he tried to run to him.  The reunion was beautiful, Keith stretched out his arms and Bailey flew into them.  All was right with the world.  That night Bailey slept in our bed, snuggling next to his favorite human.

About a week later, I had to bring Keith back to the hospital.  Not only was this devastating to our family, but to Bailey as well.  When I did not bring Keith home that night, Bailey was very very angry, thinking I had something to do with it.  If I walked into the room he was in, he walked out!  Of course, he did not sleep with me that night, he slept with Kellie!!

Bailey was missing his daily long walks with his favorite human.  He got the essential exercise, but it just wasn’t the same for him.  When Kellie and I were not at the hospital or running the business, Bailey got our attention!!  However, as the days became nights, and we spent most of our time at the hospital, he became very destructive.  Kellie would go back and forth to take care of him and give him hugs, but he bore holes in the walls and ripped up the carpet.  We knew that he was so upset, so we found it difficult to be angry with him.

Keith spent another 12 days in the hospital only to have them tell us that there was nothing more anyone could do for him.  When he came home for the final time, we had to have Hospice set up in our living room so we could make him as comfortable as possible!

Over the next nine days, I slept in the living room with Keith, because I was afraid I would not hear him when he needed me.  Bailey spent every night in our bed, but during the day, he would nervously go between the couch, to the chair, to the floor, or lay under Keith’s bed as if he was protecting him!

On February 8th, just six weeks and two days, after the initial visit to the hospital, Keith was in and out of consciousness.  At one point, Bailey jumped up on the bed and landed on Keith’s stomach.  Bailey was only 18 months old, and of course, he didn’t realize that he was causing some pain.  He didn’t understand why we quickly shooed him away, and he was so upset that he hid under our bed.  Kellie and I spent the whole day just being by Keith side.  We were playing his favorite music and telling him how much we loved him.

Very late in the afternoon, Bailey came to Keith one more time.  He gently got on the bed, kissed Keith on the face and then he left his bedside.  That night, just before midnight, Keith had passed away.  We had to call the nurse from hospice to come and officially pronounce him.  While we were waiting, Bailey laid under the hospital bed, and the three of us sat there in silence.  He never came from under the bed until the nurse arrived.

The nurse was a kind, 6’6″ gentleman from Jamaica named Godfrey, with a baritone voice, and fedora.  Bailey would typically greet him with his tail wagging, and try giving kisses.  Usually, he would jump up because he was so happy to see him.  Not this time!!  Bailey proceeded to sit in front of Keith at his bed as if guarding him.  As Godfrey gently took care of Keith, Bailey did not move.  Bailey watched intently.  I believe that if Godfrey moved a hair wrong out of Keith’s head, he might have lost a leg.

Once Godfrey left, we then had to wait for the funeral home attendants.  It was so heartbreaking for Kellie and I, but it became so profound as we watched Bailey sit next to Keith when the two gentlemen, dressed in suits, arrived at two in the morning.  As the gentlemen worked, Bailey followed them intently.  He was visibly upset as these guys placed Keith on a gurney.  Bailey was running back and forth; from both sides of the bed to the couch to the chair.  He was whining, crying and trying to catch his breath as they were making there way to the front door!  What were they doing to his favorite human?  Where were they taking him?

As the funeral attendants took Keith away, Bailey followed us down the stairs and watched as the gentlemen placed Keith in the back of the hearse.  Kellie, Bailey and I watched as the vehicle drove away, and then we went upstairs.  Kellie and I went to our bedrooms, Bailey slept in the living room under Keith’s hospital bed, and he did not leave it all night long.

The next morning I had to go to NYC, and Kellie stayed home.  Hospice needed to pick up all of their equipment.  What neither Kellie nor I realized was how devastating this would be for Bailey.  For over ten days, the hospital bed and oxygen machine were part of our lives and an extension of Keith.  When Hospice came, Bailey went crazy and started jumping up at the gentleman taking the equipment.  He was crying and whining as each piece was taken outside to the truck.  Kellie called me to tell me that he was crying so hard that she thought he was choking.  She was so upset as he would run to the window, watching them load the truck, crying.  After they left, Bailey did not know what to do with himself.  He ran from room to room whimpering; he was devastated!!

Over the last few months, it was a real struggle not only for Kellie and me but also for Bailey.  In the beginning, he was so stressed out and super hyper.  Going for a simple walk was agony.  We were so frustrated that we could not control him.  It was beginning to look impossible for us to keep him.

While dealing with our own grief, and because we loved Keith so much, we had to realize how important it was to remember our little non-human.  Bailey is grieving with us.  Each day, we all get up and put one foot or paw, in front of the other, and try to adjust to our new norm.

The three of us are slowly navigating our way out of this deep dark cloud together!  Bailey goes back and forth to Kellie’s room and mine to sleep every night!  We may not be his favorite humans, yet, but as we all get out of bed every day, we are all learning to live life without our favorite human, Keith!

 

 

No Big Deal

 

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It was a beautiful morning, much like today, seven years ago, on Wednesday, June 22, 2011, Keith and Kellie were by my side, as I was putting on my hospital gown and getting into a hospital bed.  We were all making nervous small-talk, and Keith was making his usual sarcastic puns and quips. As the anesthesiologist comes into the room, all I said to him was I better wake up…

When Keith and I opened The Petite Cafe in 2001, we were new to the town of Nutley, NJ.  As the years went by, we got to know so many wonderful people that eventually became friends. One such family was the Paserchia’s.  I met one of the daughters first, Leanne, then her sister Kim and then eventually their parents, Dennis and Denise, and brother Christopher.

Around 2006, Leanne came with her family into our cafe for Sunday brunch, and her mother, Denise was visibly shaken.  When I asked what was going on, they told me that Dennis needed a kidney transplant, that he was a difficult match, and had no prospects for anyone willing to be a living donor.  I said to them “I’ll get tested, what do I have to do?” They all looked a little shocked, but they told me that I needed to get a blood test. I told them “great I’ll do it!” During that little conversation, brunch is booming, so I went back to work, and I casually walked up to Keith, who was in front of a sizzling stove, with pancakes on one side and eggs on the other, and said “Um, Babe, I am donating my kidney, to that guy over there!”  Without skipping a beat, he said “oookkkaaayyy,” while flipping the pancakes!!!

A few days later, I went to St Barnabus, in Livingston with Keith, and we met with two great people Marie Morgievich and Dr. Shamkant Mulgaonkar.  They loved Dennis; his wife donated her kidney six years earlier, and he rejected it. They were very anxious to get him a new Kidney. When we met with Dr. Mulgaonkar, he took out his pad and pen and proceeded to show us how this was going down.  He was so amusing in his explanation but, I was not sure if he was trying to scare us or just wanted us to be very well informed.   But after he proceeded to explain, EXACTLY how they were going to cut into me and take my kidney, he said, so are you still interested??  I said of course! You don’t scare me; this is EXACTLY what I want to do.  Keith told the Dr., “she made up her mind Doc, there is no turning back, now” Dr. Mulgaonkar, said great, let’s get you tested!!

Unfortunately, I was not a match.  Now, understand that being a match for someone is very difficult, even within a family.  But if you don’t even get tested, you will never know. There was another option, it was called a “chain donation.”  So this is how it works, Dennis needs a kidney, he needs someone to donate for him, whether it is a family member, friend or stranger.  Once they have that, next is finding another person (let’s call her Laurine) in need of a kidney whose family member wants to donate, but does not match her either (let’s call her Kathleen)  I match Laurine, and Kathleen matches Dennis. So, my kidney goes to Laurine and Kathleen’s goes to Dennis. Thus the chain, I hope that makes sense!  The big problem is still getting that person who will match Dennis!!!  When family members, friends or even strangers, do not step up, it makes it difficult for the person in need, to even get the opportunity at life!!

For the first few years, nothing happened, there was no match out there for Dennis! Meanwhile, poor Dennis was on Dialysis this entire time, up to 4 times a week. Then one day I get a call from Marie, and she tells me that we have a match.  I had to go to the hospital for tests, which includes a cat scan, pap smear, and mammogram. Everything came back perfect! I am ready to go!!

But then, the call that brought everything to a screeching halt, just a few days before the operation!  One of the people in the chain – I believe it was a chain of 8, decided to back out, because his wife’s friend wanted to donate to her, and she was a match!  He was delighted he did not have to do it, backed out and the whole chain fell apart! I was so angry at the guy – HOW DO YOU DO THAT???, all these people are counting on you?? So now we wait again!!!

We waited nearly a year, and around June 10, 2011, the phone rang.  It was Marie, who said, ok we have a chain again, we think that this is solid!! Everyone has to come back again and get all the tests done, again, to make sure that nothing had changed.  If everything is good, surgery is June 22!

On Wednesday, June 15, 2011, I went to St Barnabus, for my tests, I had the mammogram, pap smear and then the cat scan.  Now the cat scan is where you have the iodine injected for contrast. Once the Dr. started and injected the iodine, I laid down on the table.  It was so weird, but I let out a very fast, short sneeze!  I had no idea where it came from because it actually startled me. After a few moments, my eyes started to itch, but I could not move yet, the Dr. asked me if my eyes were itchy (my thought was – how does she know that) and I said yes, she said, Ok, I need about 16 more seconds, can you hang on until then, I said sure!

When the test was finished, the Dr was right there to help me up.  As I swung my legs to the floor, now my eyes were very itchy.  She said to me “I think you are having an allergic reaction.”  (Apparently, the sneeze was a warning sign for her) I said, how is that I had this test before, this did not happen. (When your body has an allergic reaction, the first time you are exposed to whatever it is that you are allergic to, your body says “oh we don’t like that,” and it is the NEXT time you have been exposed, that is when the reaction happens, interesting right?!!?!!)

The next thing I know, as she was helping me walk from the imaging room, I started having difficulty breathing.  I happened to bring my daughter Kellie with me that day, without Keith, and she had to watch as my face blew up, and got swollen.  She said, “what is wrong with you, mom?” I was bewildered, I could hear the Dr say to me, “Maureen you are in “anaphylactic shock” a reaction to the iodine, I am giving you Benydryl, it will stop the swelling.”  However, what happened, was that it got a lot worse before it got better. She called for a gurney and laid me on it. I was beginning to panic because I could not breathe, I told the Dr. to get Kellie out of here, and then next thing I knew I took in a breath and could not exhale, I hear in the background Code Blue, Code Blue!!

Next thing, 14-15 doctors, and nurses are surrounding the bed looking at me, and one said, I am going to put a breathing tube down your throat to help you breathe.  I shook my head NO, and I knew if they did that I would have to stay in the hospital, besides I was starting to feel a little better.

By the time Keith got to the hospital, I was down in the emergency room, but feeling better and still swollen.  Keith told me that he “was so freaked” out that he was not here for me, and he was so happy to see my face – even though it didn’t even look like me!  Before we left, I asked the Drs., am I ok to have the surgery next week?!?! They said yes you are, my reaction was “GOOD”! After a few of hours, I was okay to leave and I even drove home.

That Sunday, June 19th, was Father’s Day.  Our store was open, but a Street Fair was going on, and Keith and I decided to take a walk. As the surgery was looking like it was really happening and I was feeling excited and anxious about it.  I knew it was the right thing to do, especially since Organ Donation has been in my life, ALL my life – but again that is another story, for another time! As we were enjoying the day, I said to Keith, “I know that Wednesday was scary, but I need you to promise me one thing, that if the surgery goes south, you won’t be angry with me.”  We stopped walking, and he said to me “How can I ever be mad at you for doing something so beautiful,” I gave him a big hug and said to him, “Ok bring on Wednesday!”

Which brings us back to the beginning of my story…

I kissed Keith and Kellie, then I was wheeled to the OR, they helped me on the bed, hooked me up to IVs, and the surgeon came in and said, “Ok, Maureen, are you ready?”  I said I am, and he said, excellent! That was the last thing I remember until I woke up!!!!

The surgery was done Laparscopic, there were three tiny incisons, they cut the Kidney out, stitched up the vein that connected the kidney and closed me up.  It was about an hour and a half.  Done!!  Now I am not a wimp, but whew, I was definitely in pain, I will not sugar coat it!  Even with the painkillers, it was not easy.  But, I woke up jubilant, the first thing I asked for was “how is Dennis,” they told me he was doing great!  I was beyond thrilled! The surgery was an eight-person chain, my kidney went to a woman in NYC, and Dennis got his kidney from a person, who was from California!  It was such a great day! The lives of eight people changed forever, and I am so proud to have been a part of it!

Dennis did have some issues post surgery, but once he was feeling better, he began living his life without Dialysis!!!  Life was great, and so was his life with his new grandson.

Sadly, after living with this kidney for nearly 7 years, in March, Dennis rejected the kidney, and he is now back on Dialysis!  This does happen with organ donation, he will now be a more difficult match, but if no one steps up to be a living donor, then he will not get another opportunity! We cannot let this happen!  Consider being a Living Donor today!  If I could, I would do it again, I am very passionate about Organ Donation, and to me this was really No Big Deal!

The First Father’s Day

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**I posted this on my social media on Father’s Day

When Keith and I started talking about getting married, I was really not interested in having children, and since he already had two children from his first marriage, I asked him “are you ok if your two children are all the children you have?” He told me “yes, but I think you will change your mind someday!” I told him, “I don’t think so,” and we go on with our lives.

But then, my beloved grandfather dies, I realized what it meant to have a family of my own, and having watched Keith with his own children, I knew that he would be a great father to our child. I told Keith, “ok I hate to admit it, but you were right.” “I think I want to have a child, just one, and also I want to go back to work after six weeks, are you ok with that?” of course he was thrilled!!

On February 26, 1990, our beautiful daughter Megan was born. As Megan got sick, it became apparent that I would not be able to go back to work. Keith was working at the Marriott Corp. at Paine-Webber, and he took on two more jobs to make up for our lost income! When he would come home, the first thing he would do – if it wasn’t too late – is tell me to get some rest, I will take care of our little girl! He was the calming force in our small family, and Meg loved when her daddy held her in his massive arms against his chest. On the day she died, he whispered in her ear; you can let go, my little little (his favorite thing he called her), we love you, you do not need to hold on for us!

One year later we gave birth to our daughter Kellie; it was challenging being pregnant and mourning at the same time! Keith, was my strength, my rock, and my navigator through our new norm. He took on all the stress of everything so that my pregnancy would be as “stressless” as possible. When are beautiful daughter Kellie was born, completely healthy, we started to build a life again.

In January 1994, Keith’s son Justin had an opportunity to live with us, and just like that, we became a family of four! It was so amazing watching Keith with his children. Cultivating their strengths, teasing them with pranks, reading stories to Kellie and telling Justin stories of his adventures! Both kids were able to go to him and tell him anything. He was not judgy, but he was not a pushover either. If the kids were in trouble, my first reaction was to freak out and ground them, but he would have his calm Keith way, and the kids would usually feel far worse because they disappointed their dad!

As the kids had become adults, Keith, became their best friend! He loved the man that Justin had become! He was proud of the husband and father that he was, and I was so happy that Justin had the most amazing example of what it means to be a husband and father. My heart goes out to Kellie, who has yet to start her life, Keith will never see her career choice, who she decides to spend the rest of her life with, or ever meet her children. I am confident though that with the special relationship she had with her dad, he will be with her throughout every decision she makes through her life, and he will help her to make the right choices.

This Father’s Day will be the most difficult for all of us, but as we think of the kind of father he was, all we can do is smile throughout the day! HAPPY FATHER’S DAY! #keithandmegan💜💜 #fathersday