Thursday, May 17, 2012

Just When You Least Expect It

"Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans."

The above quote is one of my favorites. I've seen it attributed to so many people, I'm not sure who actually said it. Ironically, I'm an atheist, but I agree with the basic premise-- life is what happens while you're making other plans.

In 1992/93, I'd been dating a woman on and off. I finally ended it when I decided that things were not working out. On July 4, 1993, I got a call from her-- she was pregnant.

She decided to go through with the pregnancy, and after my son was born, we decided to try to work it out. I lasted about two years with her, and moved out when I realized her fits of uncontrollable rage were not ending any time soon. I'd spent my whole childhood in fear of my father's fits of uncontrollable rage, and had no desire to live with it again.

Things were fairly amiable for a while after the split-- until she realized that I was not coming back. I'd come to realize that she was always going to be abusive. She hired a lawyer, and tried to keep me from ever seeing my son again. I hired a lawyer and kept her from doing that.

For the last 16 years, my son has shuttled between two households. He had planned to move into my home permanently a few days after his high school graduation on May 26.

About a week and a half ago, I was home alone on a Saturday-- he normally would have been there, but his mother asked to have him for an early Mother's Day celebration with her family (irony alert here!) My wife and my daughter had other plans and were elsewhere.

I'd settled in with a movie and a couple of glasses of wine, when I got a text from my son, asking if I was working. I was not, I replied. Then could I come get him-- he was moving in that night.

I was floored. I called my best friend Jim, who has become, basically, Adam's uncle over the years. I knew (as did he) that Adam's mother could be very aggressive. I asked him to come with me. Jim had also settled in for the night, but without hesitating, told me to give him a few minutes to get out of his pajamas.

About an hour later, I got to her home. I texted Adam, and he started bringing stuff he'd hastily packed out. His mother came out, and was, surprisingly, calm.

It turned out, as I discovered, that she'd started arguing with him, and needled him, asking why he was unhappy. He wanted to tough out the last few weeks with her-- her home is much closer to his high school than mine is-- but she kept going and going. Finally, he let loose with 18 years of what she'd done, including kicking him out-- twice-- when he was 8 and 9. Her general anger and pissiness. She still could not understand what he was upset about.

After all these years, after all the anger and acrimony, it all ended quietly. He moved in with me, and will stay with me until he goes off to college. I can't even describe how happy I am about it. His sister (his stepsister technically, but they think of one another as brother and sister) is happy to have him here, as is my wife. It's been a long, long time coming.

A Couple of the Good Ones

It's been a very hectic last couple of months.

There has been job stuff-- specifically, lots of overtime, but that's secondary. I've lost a couple of my favorite people in my life.

My mother-in-law, Ellie, died on March 9. She had suffered from emphysema and a related illness, COPD, for some time. I learned in nursing school that most people with COPD eventually develop a bout of pneumonia that they can't fight off. Ellie was right out of the textbook. A few nights before, she'd become very agitated, which is often a sign of pneumonia in older adults that people miss; they never develop a fever, because their bodies are too weak to mount a fever response to the illness. She was hospitalized, and sank fast. My wife, thanks to the kindness of one of her friends, was able to fly up to Minneapolis and be with her at the end. I talked to her on the phone the night before. She was lucid and loving; she told me how much she loved me and how much she appreciated me being a good husband to her daughter and a good father to her grandchildren. She died peacefully the next day, with my wife beside her.

This picture, taken in a visit Ellie and George, my father-in-law made around Thanksgiving, is my favorite. Ellie's ailments made life a lot of work for her in her last years, yet she kept her humor and spirits, and was a delight to be around. She adored her grandkids, and just couldn't get enough of them.

The day after my mother-in-law passed away, I got a call from Larry, one of my closest friends. I could tell right away, by the tone of his voice, that something was wrong. His mother, Sandra, who lived alone, had taken a fall. She'd hit her head and had been unconcious for an unknown amount of time. She was in a coma. The next day, Larry got terrible news: there was, as the physician told him, "no chance of meaningful recovery."

The last time I'd seen Sandra was last year, at the funeral of Larry's sister, who had passed away from a heart attack at the age of 49. As sad as the event was, I was very happy to see "Sandy" as Larry kiddingly and lovingly referred to as. When I was in college, where Larry and I became friends, my parents moved to California. They had bought me a car, and Larry would usually catch a ride back to Chicago with me during the breaks. I was always welcome at his mother's home, and loved hanging out with his family. I always joked that Sandra had "taken in a stray."

Sandra was already high in my book for bringing a guy who has become, over decades, one of my closest friends into the world. Giving me some stability at a time when I was sometimes estranged from my own family made her one of my favorite people too.

Ellie and Sandra will be missed. A lot.