You Never Know What You May Find…

For the past two weeks, I’ve been slowly going through Tim’s desk and dresser drawers and his two vehicles. It’s been an incredible and overwhelming process, but in a very positive way! Kim and I were very sad when we discovered that Tim wasn’t wearing his wedding band when we went to the funeral home for the family viewing. No one could locate the ring, not at the funeral home, nor at the hospital in NY where he died. I tried not to dwell on it because it wasn’t Tim’s original ring. It was the ring he began wearing at our 25th anniversary vow renewal almost six years ago.

I decided that this would all be ok if  I could find Tim’s original wedding band, which was a really cool nugget ring. I searched everywhere but couldn’t find it. I was getting desperate, because though I know that Tim loved me, I wanted that ring as a symbol of our love. Then on Thursday, I was looking for a paper clip in Tim’s desk drawer, when I noticed a ring box. Could it be??? My heart started beating faster. I opened the box, and there it was, that beautiful nugget ring that I wanted to find so badly! I clutched it in my fist, and burst into tears!! I immediately placed it in Tim’s memory trinket box that a dear friend gave me on Wednesday and I felt like I had gotten a small piece of Tim back.

ring final

 

Yesterday I cleaned out Tim’s Cadillac sedan and the Ford Expedition that we used to tow Memory Maker. There were the usual things in both vehicles, umbrellas, sunglasses, packs of Kleenex, recylced bags for grocery shopping and receipts for gas and car washes. But I also found something I’d never expected. I had been told by almost all of Tim’s clients that “all he did was talk about you, so we feel like we know you!”. While I did believe that Tim talked about me quite a bit, I clearly didn’t get how much until I found his work portfolio, a zippered case that I thought he used to keep his daily schedules and other important company papers for Bear Sedan. When I opened it, there were three pages of his schedule for the last few days of June right before we headed to NY, which included locations to pick up and drop off clients. But everything else in the portfolio had everything to do with ME, and nothing to do with Tim or Bear Sedan!! There were my business cards (but none of his), three signed copies of my book, printed articles about my security career and my terms on the ASIS Board of Directors, and several newsletter and newspaper articles on my speeches and tour for my book. There were also printed photos of many of my LEGO classes that I wrote and taught. I looked at all the stuff over and over. It was like a museum of Loretta’s life and career. Why would he have so much info about me and my work, and nothing to promote himself or his own business?? Who does that???? I strongly believe it demonstrates the enormous love and pride Tim had in and for me, in my work, and all of the things I was passionate about. I guess his clients hadn’t exxagerated after all! I will always treasure that amazing find I’d never seen before!!

Yesterday was the day that after one month and two days of waiting, I finally received Tim’s death certificate, and saw his much discussed and debated causes of death. There were three listed  – 1) multiple embolic strokes 2) hypercoaguable state (blood clots) and 3) Metastic pancreatic ductal adevocarcuoma (the most lethal form of pancreatic cancer). I stared at the causes, and I felt numb. The death certificate makes it real and so FINAL for me. It is printed in black and white and is the document you need to move forward with processing a loved one’s debts and assets. For all intents and purposes, it’s the official document that officially ENDS Tim’s life. I had wanted it so badly over the last two weeks, but once I had it in my hands I wanted to give it back!! But at least now we know!

The final thing I “found” this week was confirmation that I CAN be happy and have FUN though I’m no longer part of a “couple”! Four times this week I had dinner with family and very close friends. For one of those dinners, a birthday celebration, I was with three couples, yet I didn’t once feel like I no longer belonged in the group because I’m now a widow. I shared many stories about Tim and we laughed a lot, but I also shared some of my goals for moving forward with my “new” life. I think I already knew that the people who loved me and Tim as a couple, also deeply love me just as Loretta…But it felt extraordinary to actually get that confirmed. I’m so glad I accepted all of those invitations to dinner, because it showed me that my new life is just beginning. If we just open ourselves up, you never know what you may find. Thanks Tim for taking care of me, and nudging me to say YES to going out and making new memories! Love you always!

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Rebuilding My Spirit!

I had three goals for this past weekend. First, I wanted to finish the almost 300 thank you notes for the outpouring of love and support we received upon Tim’s passing. Check!! Second, I wanted to get my LEGO bricks out again and dust them off as I hadn’t touched them since Tim’s first stroke on July 10th. Check!! And finally I wanted to start on a presentation called “Rebuilding the Spirit of the Caregiver” that I’m giving next month in St. Croix. Check!!

What I didn’t know was the fact that I would be including grieving as part of the presentation. Being a caregiver is hard work and you grieve the loss of the person and the relationship you had with them even before they die. That’s especially true if you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s because the person you knew leaves you sometimes many years before they actually die. As I was doing my research and putting my presentation together I felt a true calmness and peace come over me. Who knew that this presentation would hit so close to home for me. 

Several months ago while talking with the woman who booked me to do this presentation as well as my Being My Mom’s Mom presentation, she stated that I was just what the caregiver support groups needed to rebuild their spirit! I was flattered at the time but as I am beginning to write my speech, I realize that I’m also going to be rebuilding myself and my own spirit in the process! My frienily (friends who are family) Paul Roberts Abernathy pointed out to me that soon “I’ll come to my new normal and new me, never again as I was”. I hadn’t actually thought about there being a new me in the future, but realized after a few paragraphs into my speech how right Paul is. The caregiving experience I had with Tim was only seven days in length, but it felt like the most intense caregiving boot camp ever and I was a different person at the end of it. I was somewhat at peace after Tim’s death because his “going to sleep” was so much better than what he would have faced with the three months or so he would have had left to live with pancreatic cancer. I would never have wanted Tim to suffer so in those last two days when it became obvious that Tim wasn’t going to survive, I also felt myself becoming stronger every hour. In my last few minutes alone with Tim I promised him that I’d be fine after he left and that I’d continue with all the travel plans we made. I assured him that I’d see to it that the yard guy would trim the hedges just as he liked, that I would learn how to fix things around the house, that I’d find a good price for a new roof in the next few months and that I’d learn how to work our vacuum cleaner. I’m doing pretty well so far! I even purchased a new car already to carry out some of the errands Tim used to do with mom. I hadn’t actually planned on doing that until September so I know I’m already stronger than I was. A “newer me” is emerging. 

My friend Carol Bradley Bursack commented that my rebuilding the spirit presentation will have “amazing authenticity”. Ain’t that the truth! In addition to the grieving topic, I’ll also be talking about finding joy again and relying on others when you need help as part of rebuilding the spirit. I’ll be doing a hands-on exercise on the importance of play and will have a short period of meditation too. All things I myself am doing right now and will continue in the coming months. Tim was supposed to go to St. Croix with me, and he absolutely will be with me in spirit. He loved the beach and the hotel where the conference will be held is right on the water. 

Before and after my presentations I’ll go down to the beach and run up and down in my bare feet yelling and laughing with a big smile on my face just as Tim would do! As I continue to work through the stages of grief I also know that each day I’ll also be working on rebuilding my spirit too! Thank you Tim for being the amazing man and lover of life that you were. You certainly rubbed off on a lot of people!! Love you! 

The Worst Month of My Life!

Tim and I had looked forward to July 2016 since last October when we visited Herkimer Diamond Mines in Herkimer, NY and were hired on as “workampers”. Workampers are people who provide services at National Parks and campgrounds in exchange for free camp sites and / or a salary. Many of our friends were aware that in the summer of 2017 Tim and I had planned to hit the road as workampers with our first five locations already selected. July 2016 was to be our “trial run” of our new chosen lifestyle.

The month started off so well. We arrived on the afternoon of June 30th after a relaxing and very scenic trip, and excitedly set up our camper home for 30 days. We purchased groceries, and a cord of wood for nightly campfires. We met our camp neighbors who would play a pivotal role in our lives. Tim was scheduled to work two nights a week as the security person, a cool job performed mostly in a golf cart. Tim trained with the full time security person, our next camper neighbor Bill, and loved it!

On July 1st, I familiarized myself with the campground and assembled the many packages of LEGO bricks still in their cute boxes. I started my forty hour a week job of teaching 5 different LEGO classes on July 2nd. It wasn’t just incredibly exciting, it was fun beyond my wildest dreams!! Kids came from everywhere, and we all built extraordinary things! I coached and assisted the kids, and then marveled at their creative productions. Tim dropped by the pavilion where the classes were held often and had a blast watching me and the kids play. On July 9th, I began preparing the LEGO bricks for a huge camp of 120 kids that would begin on Monday July 11th. I was excited about it, but nervous too.

I never had the opportunity to meet the camp kids, because on the afternoon of July 10th my life changed forever. At 4:15pm that day, Tim drove our SUV to the activity pavilion to help me load the tubs of LEGO bricks when my shift ended. As soon as I saw him walk toward me, I knew he was having a stroke. I yelled for my camp neighbors Bill and Debbie who assisted me in getting Tim in the vehicle and I sped off for the local hospital. I thought all would be well and we’d conquer this quickly just as we had conquered Tim’s heart attack in October 2015. The local hospital was amazing. They stabilized Tim quickly and praised me for getting Tim to them in record time. They loaded Tim into an ambulance and transferred him to Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, NY. We had visited Cooperstown just a few days before and loved the town. I immediately fell in love with the hospital and its incredible staff.

Tim excelled in his first full day at Bassett, chatting with everyone while walking up and down the hall unassisted while listening intently to the instructions for strengthening his left arm and hand. I met with the stroke coordinator assigned to me and she made us feel like royalty. We all had high hopes. Then on July 11th Tim had a second much more devastating stroke. It caused him to fall dramatically to the floor, a sight I still see every time I close my eyes. The world started to spin right about then – they said he needed a transfusion, was in heart failure, and had something was seriously wrong with his liver. There was one and only joy on the 13th when Tim was able to sit for about an hour in a chair. He and I cheered and high-fived!!

By the 14th, Tim had bleeding on the brain, blood clots, and they told us his strokes were likely caused by cancer. It was all so stunning. I had to take it all in, AND pass it all along to Kim who was already scheduled to arrive for vacation with us in NY on the 15th. It was on the 14th that I realized my life would never be the same. Even if Tim survived, the damage from the strokes would require months of intensive rehabilitation.

The 15th was the beginning of the end for Tim. He had another stroke could barely swallow or talk but still had his sense of humor. Thankfully Kim and Kendal arrived and were able to share tears and love with Tim before they performed a procedure in attempt to prevent the blood clots from getting to his heart and lungs. I thank God for the minutes they had together. That night he coded and I screamed and cried as I talked on the phone with Paul and Pontheolla, our friends who are family.

Some of Tim’s best friends made the seven hour trip to NY to visit and in essence say goodbye. That seven days of my living in that hospital with Tim was just a blur, but after all the doctors, nurses, stroke coordinators and dozens and dozens of tests to determine exatly what was wrong with Tim, the only words that now stick in my mind occurred at 12:31 pm on July 17th when the ICU doctor told us that Tim was “brain dead”. Our workamping dream had evaporated quickly. We sat with Tim and played  his favorite Diana Ross songs as he died.

Kim and I stayed in Herkimer to wait for the autopsy results which revealed the stunning diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We also kept our promise to Tim and drove to Niagara Falls, a trip we had planned and paid for in advance. For a day and a half we laughed, hugged and cried, as we enjoyed the falls, butterflies and rainbows. Tim would have been very proud of us. I began notifying Tim’s clients of his death. It was one of the worst tasks I had to do. Some of them burst into tears and had to call me back after getting themselves together. All of them were as shocked as Kim and I were by the turn of events. For a few I had to repeat the news several times to let it sink in.

Retired cop friends arrived on July 22nd and helped us by driving our Memory Maker home. During the seven hour ride home,. Kim and I worked on the obituary and funeral arrangements. Our neighbors welcomed us home with tears and open arms, and plenty of great food for our souls. The next day were the trips to the funeral home and the cemetery. That horrible process was made much better by the compassionate people who were assigned to work with us!

Kim and Kendal were with me almost constantly. Paul and Pontheolla arrived in shifts, with Pontheolla arriving on Sunday the 24th and Paul the following Tuesday. Our great friend Wendi and her daughter (our Goddaughter) Bryanna came frequently and did any and everything we needed. Our chosen grief therapy was to clean our house from top to bottom. We all bonded over stories of Tim, food and drinks, and a combination of tears and laughter.

Then came the funeral on July 29th. I didn’t sleep the night before because this was going to be my final goodbye to Tim which terrified me. I prayed the service would go well and would honor Tim in the way he deserved. My prayers were answered. It wasn’t just a great service, it was GLORIOUS!! The cemetery was tortuous in that the vault I selected required us watching Tim being lowered into the ground. But through hugs and love we all survived it. The next day Pontheolla and I attended another funeral at St. Mark’s of longtime member Crane Miller. His wife Jane had attended Tim’s service too. It was just too much!

The last two days of July went as fast as lightning. More cleaning, more food, more laughter, more tears. Paul left on Saturday to return to SC and Pontheolla was to leave this morning. I had prayed for the month to end. I wanted July of 2016, the month that changed my life to be over and done with and gone from my memory. But wait, should I really have wished for that?? It also is the month during which I last held my husband’s hand, kissed him, helped him to get dressed, heard him laugh, helped him to prepare dinner, watched a movie with and held him as he cried as his body gave out on him.

Thankfully I followed the advice of many others to stay home for a few days this week. Alone. To sit with my feelings. I didn’t sleep at all last night. I saw every hour on the clock. I couldn’t have worked today if my life depended on it. July is now part of my story. It’s how the love story of Tim and Loretta ended. I hate July of 2016 but I love it too. I remember smiling as the clock struck midnight because the long and horrific month was indeed over.

As Pontheolla prepared to leave this morning, I helped her load her car. I thanked her for all she had done for me since July 10th and we hugged. Usually as people drive away from my house I stand outside and wave as they drive away. But not today. As soon as Pontheolla was in the car, I ran back into the house and shut the door. The tears were already flowing down my face. I screamed and cried. I fell on the floor. I went into every room in the house to remember the last memory I have with Tim in each place. I must have cried for an hour.

Today is August 1st. The first real day of the rest of my life. No one else is here at the moment. I’m living alone for the first time in my life. I learned during the walk into each room that Tim will be with me every single day. We’ve lived in this house for 30 years so I know there’ll be plenty of memories. But I now have to come up with Plan B for the rest of my life. I’ll still travel this country to honor Tim and our plans, but I’ll buy a much smaller Memory Maker2 that I’ll be comfortable driving alone or with Kim and Kendal. There’s still so much to see and to do. I know everyday isn’t going to be great. I know there are still many more tears to come. But I also know how lucky I am to have experienced the love of the one and only Timothy MacBeth Veney. I’d be doing his personality and spirit an injustice if I lost myself in grief, because life is short. I know I’ll still need support, love and hugs for a long time to come… BUT look for me at church and on my bike and shopping for a new Memory Maker, I’ll be out there.Starting over. And I’ll be smiling because I’ve already experienced a love that some people never ever experience. So Thank You Tim for an amazing 36 years! I’ll love you forever!