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November 29, 2009

Four years later...

It’s hard to believe it has been four years since my phone rang with the last news on earth that I ever wanted to hear.  The irony is that I was almost not home to get the call. I was on the way to the gym after dropping Kelsey off at leikskola (Icelandic preschool) and realized that I had left my sneakers at home. I had decided that mom’s stay in the hospital was a wake-up call of sorts, and a good motivator to get in better shape.  I headed back home and was inside grabbing them when the phone rang.

I answered to hear my aunt's shaky voice.  She called let to me know that mom had died 19 minutes earlier.  I was stunned beyond belief, and everything stopped for a few minutes until I could come to grips with events enough to call Peter, get him home, and try to figure something out from 3,000 miles away from home.  Well, 3,000 from mom's home, and where I would need to head ASAP.

The one thing that stopped almost immediately was the blog.  Not just a few minutes, days, or weeks, but months before I started writing again.  I know some people  are able to continue to blog through their pain, but that was not me.  I not only was not sure what to say, but had little or no desire to write one word.  I had eventually intended on back-posting something, but never made my way around to it, figuring avoidance was a good tried and true method, why do anything else?  

To be brutally honest, it was not just my mom's death that quieted my inner voice.  It was the double (or triple?) whammy of Mom dying, learning two days later that I was pregnant, and having the pregnancy officially declared a miscarriage 5 days after Christmas.  To say it was a rough month is probably an understatement.

I was so busy the first few days that I had little time to grieve.  We had to get ourselves to the States immediately, and begin making plans.  I was executrix of the estate, and had a job that I had not foreseen needing completion for another 30 plus years.  Within a day of arrival, the funeral was planned, and a lawyer hired.  A day later I realized I was "late", and took a test.  Much to my shock, it was positive.  While we very much wanted a third child, the timing was nothing, if not, awful.

I was almost numb until the funeral was over, and others left or went back to their normal routine.  The quiet, the eeriness of knowing I had to personally wade through every sheet of paper in mom's house, and the realization she would never walk through the door again hit me hard.  Peter and the girls stayed as long as they could, but he had to get back to work, they needed a normal schedule, and I had to get to work, pronto.

There were going to be several more trips back to Pennsylvania, quite obviously, before I could finish everything, but I did what I could to keep busy.  I opened and closed bank accounts, met with the attorney and paralegal several times, returned new, but unworn items, began selling clothes I couldn't look at (outfits I had bought mom), gave 15 coats to my aunt for charity, and Freecycled the heck out of whatever I did not envision selling at an estate sale or anything that we would need.  

I think there was nothing sadder than returning a new pair of boots, clearly purchased on a happy shopping trip, in the middle of the Christmas shopping season.  I had to fight tears back to explain why I had no receipt, but, please, could Nordstrom just honor its policy and take the boots back?  I had no clue how much money would be left to pay estate bills, or worse, bills that had yet to come in, whether medical expenses or simply things she had purchased, but not paid for, prior to her falling ill.  The hospital bill was covered by her insurance, but it made me ill to look at the charges, especially considering that I ended up very close to suing for malpractice for all of the tests they didn't do in time.

I returned to Iceland after two and a half weeks of getting her affairs in order.   My aunt agreed to check on things until I could return, and the paralegal for the attorney had everything under control.  I think it was at that point that I really lost it.

It was an awful flight home due to extremely high winds and turbulence, by far the worst on Icelandair (not the airline's fault), and totally at the wrong time for me.  We had two aborted landing attempts prior to the pilots deciding to head to Egilstadir, a city on the eastern side of the island.  We stayed there for a few hours, and returned to Keflavik when the winds died down enough for the plane to land safely. 

I got to our house in Reykjavik, and I finished losing it.  The one person I desperately wanted to call could not answer the phone.  I was supposed to be thrilled to be pregnant, and instead was devastated as I could not grieve and be happy at the same time.  Additionally, I was extremely sick.  It began while I was still in Pennsylvania, but after Pete and the girls had returned to Iceland.  It was a combination of pregnancy-related nausea, grief, anxiety, and, once back in Reykjavik,  a lack of sleep.  I couldn't eat, and sleep was a complete mystery.  I had never understood insomnia before that time in my life. 

Sleep eluded me completely once I was back.  I don't know if the 22 hours of darkness contributed to it, or it was simply my body's way of reacting to everything.  I tried OTC sleeping pills, and they made the situation worse. Melatonin was by prescription only in Iceland, and I couldn't get an appointment at the base until the first week of January.  Ironically, I had no need for it by that point.

I got up each day, whether I had two hours of sleep (because my body finally just gave up and fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion) or none.  I took the girls to school, cried on the couch at home during the day, picked them up, and tried desperately to be there for them.  I managed to pull through, and even created a Christmas for them.  The worst part?  Putting out the gifts mom had shipped early, knowing the FPO might take a while.

Despite everything, I tried to look at the bright side.  The pregnancy.   I was sick early, and generally, that meant a healthy pregnancy.  We decided to announce the impending birth early, so as to brighten everyone's spirits, hopefully my own included.  Never mind my rule about waiting until the 3rd month, especially since I had already experienced two miscarriages at this point.  

Two days later we had our first, and second-to-last, doctor's appointment.  Due to the difficulties I had with both Caitlin and Kelsey, I was able to see  a specialist.  As is standard, she performed a sonogram to confirm the pregnancy.  This time, it was the opposite.  There was only a faint heartbeat, and the growth was not on track.  She had blood work done, scheduled me for an appointment two days later, and her assistant discussed my 'options' with me.  While not popular in Iceland, I requested a DNC, should the pregnancy not be viable.

I immediately was under fire.  Why?  Why would I choose that?  Why not let things go naturally?  If nothing else, I was insistent upon immediate testing, but I also had not slept, eaten (much, if anything), nor really felt anything for the past month.   Nothing sounded better than being forced to go to sleep, despite the awful circumstances.  More to the point, I did not need any more pain, and certainly not dragged over several days.

Friday rolled around, and the sonogram pointed out the obvious, as had the blood work.   The pregnancy was over, and the only decision to be made was what to do next.  I chose the DNC, and thankfully, the procedure was quick and painless, from a physical perspective.  It was uncomfortable when they forgot to ex-tubate until I was wide awake, but at least everything was over, and there were no obvious issues.

We received the results in the mail several weeks later.  Like my previous two miscarriages, this pregnancy was not meant to be.  A chromosomal abnormality not compatible with life had occurred, and there was no way the baby would have made it to birth.  It was a relief in some respects knowing that nothing I had done (or not done) had contributed, especially the stress brought on by the grief.

And, with that, you have my life  from 10:15 a.m. on the 29th of November 2005 until the next time I booted up the computer, and actually felt like typing a blog posting.  I wasn't 100% myself, but had begun to come back from the brink, and was able to plan future trips to the States, and try to work out a plan for everything that still needed doing.  The days were getting longer, I thought up reasons to leave the house (not stay in), and I began to look ahead and realize there might be good times in the future.

All that being said, if I could turn back the clock, I would do it in a heartbeat.  I would be on the phone with the hospital right now, begging them to check my mom.  I would plead with them to have a pulmonologist come in and test her for the clot we all knew was there, and if nothing else, perform emergency surgery.  I could turn it back further and fly back to make sure it was all done, even though she repeatedly told me not to, as she "would by home by Wednesday."

Instead, I am sitting here, laptop in hand, thinking about after four years, how happy I am that there is finally a stone in place.  My one omission during the first year was a lack of concern for a gravestone. Finally, it is complete, in its proper location, and includes pots molded into the marble of the base for plantings.  It is a beautiful stone, artfully carved, but necessary much too soon.  I am thinking, perhaps, irises?

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I think now, as I did then, that you managed to be an amazing mom and daughter at such a tough time, and that your mom would be so proud to see that. And you are right, definitely irises!

I know we talked briefly about both of our mothers' passings too soon. So sorry for your loss. My mom's been gone almost 7 years now, though so hard to believe. I heard a million times "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger". I was sick of hearing it, but now feel its truth. Though we'd never have wanted the cards we were dealt, they were dealt just the same. But maybe now we appreciate every day just a little more than before. Pleasant memories to you each day :)Denise

@Denise: It's funny, I didn't really use that phrase until Peter was on SD, and then it became my mantra. It is very, very true! Thank you!

@ Shannon: Thank you, though I couldn't have done it without your help!

Wow, Jen, you are such a good writer! I know you couldn't write it at the time, but looking back, you're able to put a voice to your pain and suffering, and this is helpful to all of us. As Shannon said, you are an amazing mom and daughter and I'm sure your mom is beaming from above at seeing how well you've done. Take care. Peace and love...

Thank, Janet, and thank YOU for all of your help!

Wow - what difficult stuff to go through when you're so close to family, and yet so physically far away. My thoughts go out to you during these "anniversaries" of sorts...

When we first moved overseas in 2003, Matt and I had 3 grandparents die within 3 months... and 2 of them were within 6 days of each other. Totally not the same as a parent passing... yet stressful to not be with a support system.

And I didn't realize you had as many miscarriages as me... or that you had difficult pregnancies and needed specialists either. Yikes! :)

Thanks for the comment! I think any sort of unexpected event can be extremely difficult. Two grandparents in 6 days...that is terrible, I am so sorry!

I had intrahepatic cholestasis with both of the girls and had to be induced early. One of those 'uncomfortable for me, but fatal to the baby' diseases of pregnancy. Thankfully, did not happen with Nicholas!

I wanted to thank you for your blog and the honesty with which you write. I dream of working for the FS and my main fear is leaving my mom, sisters and family.

I appreciate that you write the tough stuff as well as the good, especially as we almost lost mom in 2007 and 4 weeks ago.

Thank you for your blog,
K

Kristina,
Thank you so much for reading and for the note. It is very gratifying to read that this has helped you, though I am quite sorry about your mom. Though I have not lived near family since I was 7, I can remember what a wonderful experience it was to have them nearby, and understand how hard of a decision it can be to leave for any period of time.

Thanks for stopping by, and please come back! Also, feel free to email me off-line should you have other questions.

Thanks!
~Jen

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