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!