This is Part 2 of a 5 part Blog series.

If you haven’t read the first part, click the link below:

Part 1 – In Spite of the Unfortunate Events

Miles Apart

It was my senior year of high school and I was a typical 17 year old… trying to spend all of my time with my boyfriend and friends, and not at home.

I remember feeling like I had to spend more time with my mom because my dad had just relocated to Louisiana for work. My three older brothers followed him down there while my mom and I stayed in Michigan.

It was kind of a unique situation.

My parents were not getting a divorce like it might sound. They were happily married, in fact. Being happy, however, didn’t mean that things were easy. They certainly weren’t.

My parents had been in financial trouble for several years, due to various reasons.

My dad had lost his job to a misunderstanding a few years prior and we had struggled ever since.

He spent about 5 months trying to make it as a poker player (bless my mother’s heart & patience), before taking a management job with a new company at a 50% pay cut from his previous employer.

On top of the pay cut they owed money to the IRS for tax purposes. We were drowning and barely keeping afloat.

From the outside looking in, you would have never guessed it. I know there are so many people in similar situations.

Despite the stressful financial situation we were battling, we still had each other, and that was more than enough.

This is our last family photo taken in 2008 (top L is my brother Boomer, Middle is my brother Scott, and top R is my brother AJ)

My parents had wanted to move to Louisiana to be closer to family for a while, but because I insisted and cried my sweet little heart out, they refused to make me move before I graduated.

I didn’t think of it as selfish at the time, but looking back, maybe it was. I could see how miserable my dad was at work.

But, try telling a 17 year old in her senior year of high school that she has to move across the country…

Haha! Yeah, I don’t think that would go over well for anyone.

So, my dad went to Louisiana to look for work and found a job within a week. No surprise. He was a charming and intelligent man with years of management experience.

I remember some people thought it was strange that my dad would move down south and leave my mom and I up here in Michigan… but, it was the least selfish thing my parents could have ever done for me.

They were willing to spend the next 9 months in different states just so I could graduate from high school where I wanted to.

My mom and I were incredibly close, I still think to this day she was the best friend I have ever had. But, that still didn’t mean I wanted to spend all of my free time with her… I was 17. I had a boyfriend (my husband now; P.S. his name is Ben) and friends and so much to do before graduating!

She was always so understanding that I wanted to spend time with friends. In hindsight, and as a mother now, it breaks my heart to picture my mom spending all day alone in our house while I was out having fun.

It was October 26th, 2008 and I had plans to spend the day with Ben. We were going to have dinner at his sister’s house later that day, so my mom wanted to spend the morning with us.

We went to our favorite local restaurant and ordered our usual, Ultimate Hashbrowns. This was the day my entire life changed.

 We finished our meal, and started waiting in line to pay when my mom received a phone call.

“WHAT!?” my mom screamed.

It startled the whole restaurant, especially Ben and I.

I instantly asked what was wrong, but she just handed me her wallet and walked outside. I proceeded to pay the bill, and then walked out to figure out what the heck was going on.

My mom sat on the bench outside the restaurant and said “your dad’s having a heart attack.”

My legs collapsed beneath me. I had never had this happen, and luckily Ben was there to catch me. After I collected myself, we encouraged my mom to get in the car so we could go home and figure everything out.

Ben took the keys and drove us home.

The entire ride home my mom was on the phone with my brother trying to get updates.

When we got home I went straight to my room and I started to pack. I just knew that we would need to get down there.

My mom was in the kitchen crying and waiting for a phone call, and I wasn’t even by her side. Why was I packing when I should have been holding her hand?

After a few minutes we hear her cry “NO! NO! NOOOOO!!!”

I asked my mom what happened, but when I opened the curtains of my half door and saw her on the floor crying into the phone, she didn’t have to answer.

I knew.

I buried my face in my palms and felt the utter heartbreak start to sink in. My dad had just died.

My dad and I at my brother’s graduation party in May of 2008. 

Saying Goodbye to Dad

 

Thanks to Ben’s parents for driving us to a friends house in Grand Rapids, we were on our way to Louisiana. Our selfless family friend, John drove us all the way there because it was quicker than any flight we could catch.

We made it there and embraced our family and began to mourn together. We were all still in disbelief!

My dad was just 40 years old and had never had any serious health concerns. In fact, he had just passed a physical with flying colors. 

That night I remember sitting on the futon in my Granny’s bedroom with my brothers, when the wife to one of my dad’s cousin’s came in… in some way I know she thought she might be helping (she was a complicated person), but her words still haunt me.

“If you think this is bad… wait until they put him in the ground.”

I was furious. That was the last thing I needed to hear! But in a couple of days… I would know the oh so sad truth behind those words.

During the next few days we were surrounded with love and support from the community, family members, and friends. My best friend Tina even drove all the way down to Louisiana to be there for me. (Amazing!)

We had a pretty unconventional visitation. It was open casket and we tried our best to make it about who my dad was as a person.

We had Bohemian Rhapsody like music playing, and we put a 22 ounce beer, a can of tobacco dip, and poker chips inside the casket with him.

That makes him seem a little rough around the edges, but he really wasn’t. He was just a man who liked to have a good time. He was honestly one of the most responsible men I knew.

On the way to the burial, I remember feeling numb. I wasn’t even crying.

When they did the service and said it was time to go, I still wasn’t crying. I felt like something was wrong with me!

When everyone else had gotten up, I couldn’t stand. I don’t know what it was, but I literally felt like I COULD. NOT. MOVE.

When my oldest brother, Scott, took my hand to pull me up, I fell into him. All I could say was “I don’t want to leave!”, and I continued to cry this into his shoulder as he carried me to the limo.

When I think about this moment it seems like a scene from a movie… fake and dramatic. But, to my disappointment, it’s not fake.

Fast forward…

I had missed two weeks of school and had to get back to Michigan. I knew my mom was not ready to go home, nor did I want her home alone while I was in school all day.

Ben’s parents, Deb and Jeff, offered for me to stay with them for a while until my mom was ready to come back.

This was meant to be a temporary situation. But, as Christmas drew near, I knew my mom wasn’t well enough to come home. Not to mention the house was already nearing foreclosure.

Where would we live?

I told my mom to stay in Louisiana, while I made arrangements to live with my friend, Tina. Her parents had graciously said I could use their spare bedroom.

I know some people might have thought that it was selfish of my mom to stay in Louisiana while I was back in Michigan living with a friend. But, I knew my mom needed support that she wouldn’t get here.

I told her to stay. I convinced her that she needed to be there… And I still stand by that. I had a support system in Michigan. She didn’t.

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Saying Goodbye to the House

 

I went to Louisiana for the holidays, and then we drove back to Michigan to pack up the house. We were putting most things into storage, and packing a trailer of the essentials for my mom to bring back to Louisiana with her.

My brother, AJ, came with us to help. And when we got there, my Aunt Patty met us with her daughter to help as well.

My mom was so distressed she barely got out of bed when we got there. She was on a combination of painkillers for her Fibromyalgia and antidepressants for obvious reasons.

It was so hard to get through to her. I remember being so mad at her. What was she doing?

She was grieving. That’s what she was doing.

In hindsight it’s so much easier to have empathy. I wish I had more of it before it was too late.

I have always said my mom NEEDED my dad. She didn’t have a good childhood, and was never truly loved and taken care of until she met my dad. She had an older brother that helped her along the way, but my dad was really her saving grace.

Without my dad, my mom just didn’t know who she was.

I remember coming to the house after school with Ben one night to pack a few things before heading back to Ben’s place, and I was trying to talk with my mom. She could hardly talk because of the medications and I was so frustrated!

I told her, “People die from this, mom… you need to stop!”

I kissed her and I left… ranting the whole way back to Ben’s about how pissed off I was.

The very next day, January 8th, 2009, my Aunt had left for home and my brother, AJ, and his friend, Miguel, were with my mom all day.

The bell had rung at school, and Ben and I were just getting into his car to head to the house, when AJ called me.

“Mom’s having trouble breathing, can you meet me at the hospital?”

My initial thought was that she was having some sort of anxiety or asthma attack, so I asked him where he was and if he was close by. I told him to just swing in the parking lot and pick me up.

I was worried, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until he pulled in and I opened the back door to get inside.

My mom was in the back seat. Keeled over on her side. Lips blue. Barely breathing.

Sheer PANIC set in. I called Ben and told him how serious it was and he told to me to call 911. So I did. (I don’t know why I didn’t think of that first)

I finally convinced AJ to pull over about half way to the hospital so we could wait for an ambulance.

I tried to give CPR, but I didn’t know how. The 911 operator tried to talk me through it, but the ambulance pulled in before I could do anything.

They took my mom from the car and began working on her.

That was the last time I would ever see my mother.

My mom & I in 2007 while visiting Tennessee

The paramedics continued to work on her while we raced to beat them to the hospital, where we met Ben and his parents, who were already there waiting for us.

We sat in a room while we waited to hear news from the doctors. When they came in to tell us she was gone, I did not want to accept it.

I remember saying “Bring her back!”

It wasn’t long before I felt anger rush through me!

How could she do this?

I was so confident she took too much of her medications. I didn’t think it was intentional, but I did think it could have been avoided.

And suddenly, the words I spoke to her the night before haunted me.

“People die from this…” – how could those be the last words I said to her before kissing her goodbye?

It wasn’t until the autopsy came back that I would learn that medicine was actually not the cause of her death. She died from a condition called Peritonitis. Had it been treated sooner she may have had a chance, but there is no way to know.

While doctors were sorting things out, AJ made sure to call family members while Ben had called Tina who immediately came to the hospital to be at my side.

When we came out of the room to leave the hospital, several of Ben’s aunts and uncles were there waiting and even my school principal had come to show support.

Once again, we were surrounded with love and support from family, friends, and the community.

Saying Goodbye to Mom

 

I refused the option to go say my goodbyes at the hospital. I don’t really know what made me say no. I told myself I had already said goodbye, but I think I was afraid of not seeing her the way I wanted to remember her.

It didn’t feel like “goodbye” if she couldn’t say it back. 

I am sure that most people can relate to that when they have lost someone they love.

Most people would suggest that when my dad died my mom should have been there for me, not the other way around.

But, the truth is, I disagree. We should have been there for each other. It should never be a one way street.

My mom was the best friend I’ve ever had. We both could share things with each other that we wouldn’t dare share with anyone else. We had an unfathomable bond.

But in those moments and months after my dad died, we lost each other, and I have no greater regret than that.

Conclusion

I had lost both of my parents, within 10 weeks of one another, all of my family lived out of state, and I was officially a ward of the court.

To be continued…

In the next article you will read what happened after my parents passed away, and my reflections of that year. I will dive into the reasons why I still consider myself fortunate despite the loss of my parents.

For part 3 of this series click here.

Always, Maria

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