The Final Chapter

I showed up at the hospital at 6am on Saturday.  I was armed with photos of Robert and a Valentine Robert made for Aunt Barb.  I had an hour and 15 minutes alone with her.  I told her we’d be taking the sedation off in a bit and I know she has heard some scary, scary things but I needed her to fight and everything would be OK.

About 9am we stopped the sedation.  She didn’t wake up.  Five hours later when she hadn’t woken up they called the surgeon.  He ordered a CAT scan.  She had suffered a massive stroke.  They could operate but it would be futile and couple that with the tumor she would spend the rest of her life paralyzed and unable to speak.  There was no hope for a significant recovery.  He told my Uncle this over the phone.  I hit the roof.  The surgeon didn’t care about my Aunt but the least he could have done was delivered the news in person.  Or at the very least, had a nurse prep my Uncle for what he was going to say.  When he showed up at the hospital THREE HOURS LATER.  He explained that he was 40 minutes away and if we had opted for surgery he would have had to mobilize a surgical team.  Nice try douchebag.  I happen to know that a hospital administrator called you.  Fuck you and your apologies.

The rest of the weekend is pretty much a blur.  Sunday they moved her to palliative care.  She lasted until Monday at 11:40am.  My Uncle was with her until the end.  As was I and my youngest aunt.  We talked to her.  We held her hand.  We told her it was OK to quit fighting.

Then, a change in the family happened.  All of a sudden, I was no longer a child, I was an adult.  Three of the adults I had looked to all my life, my Mother, my Aunt and my Uncle were looking to me to make decisions.  I planned the funeral.  I called the friends.  I wrote the obituary.   I was the one to go to the house and pick up my Uncle on Tuesday and take him to the funeral home.  I answered the questions.  I held him when he cried.  He asked me to do the eulogy.

Apparently after I left him Tuesday he got the mail.  There was a patient satisfaction survey from the surgeon’s office to my Aunt asking if she was satisfied with her recent surgery.  My uncle told me about it the next day.  He was extremely angry when he was telling me about it and was apparently angrier the day before when he called them to tell them since she was dead and he had just come from the funeral home that he’d say she was probably unsatisfied.  Apparently in his anger he also had a small stroke.  He complained to me Wednesday about weakness on his left side.  I thought it was grief.

Tuesday night I stayed up until 2:30am scanning photos and making collages for the visitation. 

Wednesday I went to the funeral home in the afternoon to set up the memorial table and all I can say is “HOLY INAPPROPRIATENESS” on some of the conversation with the woman there.  I know she thought she was comforting me and that we are now BFF’s.  Talk about clueless.  Among my favorites were “keep my uncle busy because spouses who have been married that long tend to die within months of each other”; “maybe my uncle could bake cookies for her son because he’s allergic to like 25 things” and “does my other uncle sell his cows because they are looking for a side of beef to fill a freezer”. 

We made it through the visitation Wednesday night.  My friend Ginnie watched the house and cooked an amazing meal for my uncle and I. 

Thursday morning I got a call from my uncle.  He was weaker on his left side.  He was calling 9-1-1.  I met him at the hospital.  I calmly explained to the doctor that my Aunt had just died and he was just grieving and we needed to go because the funeral was at 10.  The doctor calmly explained to me that in his professional opinion there was legitimate muscle weakness on the left side and they were admitting him.  He wanted us to go on with the funeral.  My Aunt Sue & Uncle Ross got to the hospital at 8:30am (I called them at 5:30am and told them to get on the road up here).  Ross stayed with my Uncle at the hospital.

We got back to the house at 8:45.  By 9:15 I was showered, changed and in the limo on the way to the services.  I gave the eulogy.  Several people said they didn’t know how I could do it but I knew no one could honor her more.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  But I did it.  I nailed it.  It was my final gift to her.  Here is what I said:

Barb was my aunt and an incredible person. I’ve said on more than one occasion the past week, “There are no words.” But now it is the time for words. Having difficulty finding words of my own I’ve borrowed a lot from friends and family and things they have shared. It’s not easy to sum Barb up in a short amount of time. It would take days to say everything I want to say. I promise you, I won’t take that long.

God made the right decision in making Barb a girl. If she had been a boy, her Uncle Glen wanted them to name her Mort… and she just didn’t look like a Mort. But Mort, in the end, may have been less confusing than Barbara Ann. Half of you know her as Barb, half of you know her as Ann. That’s because when she was little and grandma was having to yell at the three sisters (which I’m pretty sure happened quite often) “Beth, Ann & Sue!” rolled off the tongue easier than “Lela, Barbara & Della!” Yes, none of them use their given first name full time. To me she was Aunt Barb so I will be calling her Barb today.

Fabulous, wonderful, special. These are three words that have come up time and time again the past few days to describe her when I talk with various people from Aunt Barb’s life. And they are all so appropriate. She was a daughter, a sister, a wife, an aunt, a friend and a loved employee. Each role that she played in her life she did well, and with passion.

Barb was one of those special people who never met a stranger. She had an uncanny ability to relate to just about anyone she met on some level.

Barb would do anything she could for a friend in need. Day or night you could call her. And if it was something she couldn’t do, she would send George. They were an incredible team. They could always count on each other. They never let “little things” become “big things”. For the past 46 years they have shared their lives with each other. Forty-six years is a long time. They could answer each other’s questions before they were asked. If there was ever a definition of true love, it was them. Our family is so lucky that we have him.

Barb was the caretaker of the family. She always put everyone else ahead of her. When her parents needed to go to the doctor or hospital, Barb and George were always there, it didn’t matter if it was day or night.

She was also the thread that tied us together. She kept up with what everyone was doing from immediate family to cousins out of state. We are having to find a new way to communicate and keep up in the coming days.

In the beginning, Barb was the pesky little sister to Beth and the protective big sister to Sue. There are too many stories of the three of them. When they were little Barb was the cute one. My Grandmother worked in a diner and all the customers were always commenting on how cute Barb was. Beth, the oldest, had enough of that one day and took Barb into the kitchen. She put an empty oatmeal box under her ear, took a knife and proceeded to start cutting her ear off. She reasoned that Barb wouldn’t be quite so cute with only one ear. Luckily my Grandmother walked in before any permanent damage was done. Barb did her share of damage to her sisters too. One day when they had been told to not get dirty, they were in their good clothes and would be leaving for church soon, Barb whacked Sue in the head with a baseball bat. Eventually the sisters all grew up, with no visible scars. They may not have gotten along all the time but they had a good friendship and enjoyed spending time together and each one would do anything for the other.

There is a specific reason I chose Emerson’s “To Laugh Often” for the reading today. Was there ever anyone on Earth who laughed more than Barb. Her laughter was infectious. She found humor in everything. She shared her laughter. She helped me learn to laugh. I can remember specific times and places when we had each other absolutely rolling… but I can’t remember what got us started laughing… because it was probably something small and insignificant. I could look at her and she’d get a gleam in her eye and that was it. We tried to remember at solemn occasions or places to NEVER make eye contact.

To win the respect of intelligent people. She did but I don’t think she ever truly realized it. That was part of her charm. She never thought she was anything “special”. Barb worked for the same company for 32 years. She often joked about how smart could she be to go to work for a propane company that had just burned down. She held many positions in the company from Customer Service Representative to Plant Manager. There was a rumor that if a tank needed to be set all Barb needed was someone to supply the brawn and she could supply the brains to make it happen. Whenever there was a tricky technical question and an Operations Manager wasn’t around it was always, “Ask Barb, she’ll know!”

When Ferrellgas bought Suburban in 2004, Barb trained their employees on how to work on the Suburban system.  She then learned how to use Ferrllgas’s old system Focus, and then she helped prepare the system to convert into PeopleSoft.   Then she learned PeopleSoft in one month.  She worked on 3 different systems in 2 months.  She could do anything!!  And do it Well!!! Barb helped train all the new District Managers that came though the Kansas City office.  They all loved Barb.

Shortly after she turned 65 Barb turned in her letter of resignation. Her boss at the time, Jon Favrow said, “I was shocked, didn’t really want to even touch it, and knew I had to do something, we could not afford to lose someone like Barb. So I asked what would it take to keep her around? She said, "I don’t want to answer the phones any longer, but I do love waiting on the counter customers!" OK, no problem. What else? "I like doing Accounts Payable, and behind-the-scenes things!" Check. What else? "I only want to work two days a week, and spend the rest of the time volunteering, spending time with family, and traveling!" You got it. She asked if this was some kind of a joke, she couldn’t just pick and chose? I told her sure she could, she’s earned it, and it was a helluva lot better than losing someone like her. Thank goodness she stayed, one of the best moves I made in KC.”

The customers didn’t always like Barb not being around 5 days a week though. It seemed like every other one would ask where she was on her day off, they all loved Barb, it wasn’t that they didn’t trust anyone else, but they just knew Barb had all the answers and would take good care of them. Even the smart-alecky customers liked Barb because she was always ready with a witty comeback, and would usually get the best of them.

Yes, I’d say she won the respect of intelligent people.

The affection of children. Oh boy did she have the affection of children. Anyone here ever heard of Robert? If you haven’t you’ve either been living under a rock for the past three years or you’re in the wrong service. She doted on that little boy. She loved him and thought he was wonderful even before he was born. I remember she was having rotator cuff surgery before he was born and she was so worried that she wouldn’t be able to hold him. I think that helped her to heal extra quick from the surgery. They shared a special relationship. She took him (and me) on our first trip to Deanna Rose Farmstead. He immediately loved the goats… and the goats loved Barb because she was always carrying a large bag they could root around in. I think their favorite was the year she brought the straw purse. Every March we would start planning our trip to the farm. She introduced us to Wonderscope and would play with Robert in the golf ball room. And dress up in costumes in the farm to market room. She introduced us to Fritz’s where the food is delivered by trains… he is now wild about trains.

And before Robert it was Donald and Erika. Every year we would meet at Crown Center at Christmas time to have lunch, see Santa and take in all the activities they have there. Every Good Friday we would color Easter Eggs. I remember one year, when Beth was not along, Barb decided the kids didn’t really need to use the dippers that come with the kits… it would be much easier to just use their hands. Until she realized, a bit too late, that dye does not just wash out of their hands. She taught me to be a good aunt and those were big shoes to fill.

And before them it was Brad and Susie. There was no bigger treat than spending a weekend with Aunt Barb and Uncle Ward. I remember trips to the park, getting ice cream and many a happy summer day at their pool.

She loved us all. She made birthdays special. She started different traditions with us all. She was never too busy when we were around to play a game, do a craft project, read a story or whatever else we could think of for her to do.

To appreciate beauty. Barb found beauty in so many things. She loved animals. That love for animals started at a young age when a sheep the family had in Turner had four lambs. She helped care of those lambs and named them Betsy, Bozo, Beanie and Buster. She continued that love for animals throughout her life having parakeets and later her dogs DumDum, Heather, Kelly and cats Get Smart and Lord Percy.

She also loved watching the horse races. One year she organized a bunch of us to go out to the Woodland’s to watch the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown. We’d go early and bet on the dog races and then bet on the horse race. Of course, after the races it was always back to her house for a meal and time to talk and laugh about our day at the track. She also always had side bets with her brother-in-law Ross.

She also loved betting on football. For years Suburban Propane had a football pool. After a few years interest died down, I think because people were so tired of her winning so much! Especially when they found out that her “secret picking weapon” was which team had the best tushes. Yep, that’s how she picked the winner, who looked best in their pants. Of course, there was one team she would never bet against, her beloved Packers. It was only natural that Barb was a Packer fan since she was married to the world’s biggest Packer fan. Her favorite team came through for her this year. Wearing her new Reggie White jersey, Barb watched them win the Super Bowl. As great as that was for her, she was even happier that she won a double or nothing bet with Ross. You still owe her $10 and she’ll be expecting it, in cash when she sees you next.

She loved water. For several years she and George had a boat and many happy hours were spent at Pomona and Lake Stockton. She tried water skiing but was unsuccessful so she just enjoyed being out on the water.

Barb loved to travel. You said “go” and she had her bag packed. She also loved trains so a few years ago we took a trip to Chicago on the Amtrak. It was one of our most fun trips. She didn’t really care who she was travelling with as long as she was going! When I was younger she would take my brother and I on trips in the summer… Hannibal, Topeka, didn’t matter where we went it was a good time. She and her sisters would take trips together. She and George recently drove to Texas to take an old friend to dinner.

To leave the world a bit better. Barb loved to volunteer. She was a past member of Soroptimist International of Kansas City and did many volunteer projects with them. She was always up for anything. When she was put in charge of the “Fish Pond” at a carnival for disadvantaged children Barb went all out constructing a back ground, making fishing poles and even mounting a “Billy Bass” to entertain the kids while they waited. When volunteering to watch children at Rose Brooks Center while their mothers enjoyed an evening of pampering, Barb let the children do a make-over on her with play cosmetics. She was active in FCE where she was their past president and enjoyed helping to plan events and their yearly service projects. We often joked with Barb that she married the perfect house husband since George cooks, cleans and goes to the grocery store. Barb was the only person I knew of that the grocery store would always open a line for and check out because she was always so agitated when grocery shopping. Her FCE chapter is called “The Ideal Homemakers”. Barb knew the family would joke with her unmercifully if we ever knew. I believe she was a member over a year before she let it slip. And yes, we did joke with her unmercifully. But I know that she loved being a part of the group and I know they loved having her from all the cards and calls we have received.

If you knew Barb you knew that she loved the Hallmark character Maxine. She loved the sense of humor and crabbiness… a friend even described her as a “real life Maxine”.

Barb was more than just my aunt to me. She was my friend. We talked daily. She was there for me during the absolute worst times in my life, the best times of my life and every mundane detail in between. Barb was a success. That’s what makes all of this so difficult. She went too soon, she went too fast. And now we’re left numb and having to carry on. But we will carry on, because Barb would expect it. She would want us to cry, she would want us to mourn, but then she would want us to bounce back. To live life to its fullest. Her passing is a reminder to us all to never waste a minute. Stop and smell the flowers, take that trip you’ve been planning to, find some beauty in the every day. That’s how we will honor her memory.

After the funeral  it was back to the house to change clothes and head over to the hospital.  The hospital I had sworn Monday I wasn’t going to step foot in again for a long time.  I told my Mom and Aunt to go home.  I could do the weekend and would need them more next week if this turned out to be a long illness.  They left.  It was in my hands now.

The good news is it turned out to be a very small stroke.  An isolated incident.  He has a good shot at a full recovery of function in his left side.  He will need some physical therapy to help with balance.  He’s OK to live alone and to drive.  I stayed at their house Thursday night to take care of some things, field phone calls, update people, etc.  and brought him home Friday.  While he was in the hospital he made me the primary on his Medical Power of Attorney.  Apparently in the coming weeks he is planning on putting me on some other things.  Since he has no “blood” relatives that he keeps in contact with there is a lot more paperwork to do since I’m not considered in the eyes of the law as a primary relative.

I came back home for good last night.  No worrying that the phone was going to ring summonsing me back to the hospital.  I slept for 14 hours straight.  Fell asleep on the couch after I ate something and I don’t think a stick of dynamite could have woken me up.

Today I’m spending time with my guys.  Thursday was the only day in this marathon that I didn’t either wake Robert up in the morning or tuck him in at night.  We’ve done as much as we can to keep his life as normal as possible.  Eventually he will realize that Barbs isn’t here anymore.  In the future he will have his blog, pictures and videos to help him remember and see how much she adored him.

I have a list a mile long of thank-yous to write.  And a few select people to contact about contributing to a bench in her memory at Deanna Rose Farmstead.  I promised my uncle I wasn’t going to smother him but next time I would listen when he said something was physically wrong with him.

This all started 10 day ago.  It seems longer, it seems shorter.  We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve leaned on each other.  And I grew up.  I’ve crossed a line in the family and I can’t go back… no matter how much I’d like, I’ll never be a child in this family again.

Life goes on.  And life is good. 

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  1. Pingback: New 52–Week 7 | Under Development

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