Family moments~

Family.  We all have them of one sort or another.  Scattered.  Close.  Dysfunctional.  Working.  Big. Small.  All shapes and sizes.  Love.  Hate.  And everything in between.

This almost 3 1/2 years of traveling as Happily Homeless has been, for me, about family.  Discovering it.  Tracking it down.  Reconnecting with it.  Finding roots in a way I’ve never had.  Realizing that keeping it can take effort and time.  Which is not a bad thing.  How can any relationship be sustained if there is no effort?  A realization that isn’t new on my part, but definitely a new perception of it as we’ve traveled.

So, my family.  I grew up in a family of eight kids.  Twenty years between the youngest and the oldest.  Five boys.  Three girls.  I’m the youngest of the older four.  The middle sister.  My dad had a brother and a sister.  There are two cousins from them.  My mom had two brothers.  Her brother Les was born on her birthday seven years apart.  He and his wife Linda had two kids.  Numbers and more numbers.

My siblings and I grew up and scattered to live our lives.  Married. Children. Divorced.  Our family has never been easy.  We had our own way of keeping the “fun” in dysfunctional.  There were issues, but sometimes its been nothing more than time and distance keeping us apart, and not paying attention to the relationships.

This underlying theme of my years of travel has been about re-establishing and reconnecting with my immediate and extended family.  I have an overwhelming curiosity about my parents (who divorced), my sibs individual relationships with them, who my parents were as young adults, the relationships they had with their own siblings.  You know-everything!  And so I’ve sought out relatives as we’ve traveled, and I’ve grown my tribe.  I’ve met relatives I never thought I’d meet!

California:  my Aunt Linda, whom I’d met twice in my life.  I went and visited her and she gave me a big box of family papers left to me by my Uncle Les.  During my visit with her I met her son, my cousin Kevin.  I really liked him.  There was a strong family resemblance to my mom, who was an intellectual, same as him.  And I was so glad I stopped to visit Aunt Linda.  She died not a year later in a fall.  

Northern California:  my cousin Laura, Aunt Linda’s daughter.  I need to get in touch with her again.  I want to know her better.  Also in northern CA, I met Laura’s daughter Jessica.  What is that relationship-cousin once removed?  Not sure.  But Jessica had a daughter of her own.  Need to contact her too.   

Maine:  I attended my Uncle Ken’s funeral and was able to meet his widow, my Aunt Peggy again.  She’s a firecracker, even in her 80’s.  Her son, my cousin David, and his family-met them too!

Connecticut:  my cousin Sam and his wife, Jean, and their son, Jon.  I was able to take our son, Fireman Nick, who also lives in that state, over to meet them.  I wanted him to know them, and know that he has family nearby.   

Maine again:  I spent time with one of my older brother’s, David, and his wife Linda. David has that kind of humor where he says something funny, but he’s kind of non dramatic about it and a minute later you realize what he said and you kill yourself laughing.  He and I spent time perusing family geneology.   My older sister Catharine came to visit while I was there.  She and I have come a long way in building a friendship and I so cherish that!  

Colorado:  my dad.  I’ve loved spending more time here with him.  Today Handsome Husband and I went up to Estes Park to meet up with my oldest brother Ken.  I haven’t seen him in 7 years.  Not for any particular reason.  Just life, and our lives are different, so we didn’t.  But I’m going to stay in touch with him from now on.  And I hope he feels the same.  He reads my blog so he’ll see this (Hi Ken!  We had such a great time hanging out with you today!)  

Tomorrow, my youngest brother Joseph is coming up to Loveland with his two boys, my nephews, Finn and Arden. I last saw Arden when he was maybe a year or so old.  Finn was a couple months old.  Presumably he’s taller now.  My kids and I, who always make up nicknames for people, and combine names (how Hollywood of us!) call them FinnArden.  Lovingly, of course.  Joseph’s girlfriend, Tammy, will be with him, so I’ll meet her for the first time.  Joseph and I have spoken on the phone for the first time in these last couple days.  We’ve laughed a lot.  I’m going to really like connecting with him again.  And we’re going to stay connected, and I’m going to be present in his kids’ lives, even if its through the mail, and the internet.

It has taken me out of my comfort zone, reaching out to family.  How odd to say that.  But we haven’t been connected and I got out of the habit of reaching out, and nurturing the relationships.  I’m very glad I took that breath and picked up the phone.  It was worth it for me.  It is worth it to me.  It doesn’t always work when we reach out to others.  But sometimes it does.  And dear readers, it is priceless and heart-warming, and an altogether lovely feeling when it does.  Life is good.

How a Dear Penthouse letter starts, and yet, this isn’t~

Don’t all Penthouse letters start “I can’t believe this really happened to me” or, “I’m not the kind of person who believes in this stuff” (not that I ever read a Penthouse letter, mind you..)

I’m thinking back, 15 years ago, when I sat at my brother Kysa’s bedside, as he was dying, and had my life changed forever.  My own experience mirrors that of many others, I’m sure, but it was something I never thought would happen in my life.  I don’t know that I even knew about such things, though I’m sure somewhere in my reading, I had seen the term near-death experience.

This was the first time, in being with my brother Kysa, I had ever been around anyone so ill, and possibly and probably, dying.  So I went in with a clean slate and no pre-conceived notions.  It was one of those suspended times.  You just kind of go with the flow-or at least that’s what I was doing.  What dying actually consisted of,  all the implications of it…who knew?  There wasn’t even fear going on with me-it was more uncertainty than anything, about how to care for him when I was alone with him, and concern that I wouldn’t do it right, or hurt him unknowingly.

There were so many moments in that last week of Kysa’s life-maybe someday I’ll make it into a book.  And I’m looking back on it now from 15 years (my god, that number is inconceivable to me!).  Now, with all I’ve learned since then, I have much more of a frame of reference…

Kysa was surprisingly alert in that week.  The cancer had taken so much from him, and he was in a hospital bed, and we had hospice in (my first exposure to that wonderful way of life support!)  At times, he would drift in and out, yes, but he was there.
The day prior to Kysa’s  death,  I was busy out in the kitchen.  His house was so very small, and it was just a couple steps around the corner to go into his room, where he had a hospital bed.  I went in to check on him, but stopped short at the door of the bedroom.  Kysa was sitting up in bed, his eyes open and trained intently on the far right corner of his room, not too far from a window.  His gaze was so strong and focused that I had to stop, as I felt like I was intruding-though, why I don’t know, as there was nobody there that I could see.  I said nothing to him, only watched.  For a moment there was a quiet silence, and then Kysa nodded and said quietly “yes.”  Another silence, as if he was listening to someone, and his eyes were still trained on that right corner.  Again, he said “yes”, another moment of nothing, and then he said “thank you”, and that was it.  He lay back and closed his eyes.   I could speculate in so many ways about that, but I chose to let it just be what it was, and so I let it rest now, and you may draw your own conclusions.  Who knows?  Until I put it with what happened the following day…

On the afternoon of the day he died, my sister Catharine came over to sit with Kysa.  His wife, Sarah, was at school (yes, surprisingly, life does continue on).  Catharine was out in the living room, speaking to our brother David, who was in South Africa, updating him as to Kysa’s condition.  I decided to leave her to her phone call, and go sit with Kysa.   Two steps to his bedroom door, and no more than two steps in, and I was stopped short in my tracks.  Kysa was asleep, peacefully, it seemed, with the back of his bed elevated, so he was half-sitting up. (He wouldn’t ever let me lower the bed so that he was lying down).  I wasn’t frightened, just curious, but more than that-is there a word?  Because what I heard was music, as in singing, and it was coming from the same corner of the room that he had been looking at the previous afternoon.  Quiet music.  I stepped further into the room to look for a source.  No radio playing, no music from anywhere in the room.  Look outside the windows.  Nobody walking by with music playing.  Nothing was playing anywhere in the house.  There was no source to be found.  So, I just quietly, so as not to wake him, went and sat next to his bed.  Not seconds later, Catharine came in, and stopped in the exact place I had, and she was clearly listening to something, and looking in the same corner as I had, and that Kysa had been looking towards the day before.  I asked her “Catharine, do you hear anything?”  And she answered “music”.   I told her that I had heard something too, but could find no source for it.  “Its the angels gathering for Kysa”, she finally said, and we let it rest.

Kysa started dying that night. It didn’t start out well-he let out a scream, clutched his head, and stopped breathing.  I was horrified-his eyes were still open.  And, in one of those moments that you just have to laugh (at least afterwards, with time),the one thought going through my head was “I have to get his eyes closed. How do I keep his eyes closed?”, and I put my hand over his eyes, and remembered that (thank goodness that I was an avid history reader!), when Abraham Lincoln died, they had placed gold coins over his eyes to weight them.  And actually cast about in my mind for where I might have some gold coins-

He did start breathing again, and we went on through the night.  He would open his eyes frequently, make a comment to us, or to nobody.  One time he said so clearly “there are so many choices, so many doors.”  My heart was breaking as I watched him, so I kept busy, giving him ice chips, a cold cloth, whatever I could.  It took forever, it took minutes.  He had, up to this point, stubbornly refused to lie down on the bed, but he finally looked at us and said “I’m ready. Help me lie down”.  And so started his dying.  And, at some point I became aware that my “job” now, with him, was to be his cheerleader, to be a witness to what was going on…and I would say to him, “come on, Kysa, just one step further. You’re almost there.  One more step.”  I said everything, I said nothing, and became aware that something was going on, something that was beyond us, something that truly was only Kysa.  This was his-and I was only permitted to go so far with him.  He seemed to be straining towards a place, towards something unseen by others in the room.  

In hindsight, it felt like I was going through a near-death experience, but not my own.  It was as if I went all the way to the edge of the cliff with Kysa, and saw the veil between this world and the next lifted, saw him step through, but had to step back-this was his, not mine.  The most astounding part for me was, when I finally realized he had died, when Sarah and I woke at 3 AM on that morning of the 26,  I felt, not sadness, not pain, but joy such as I had never felt before, triumph for him-he had run a race and he had come in first.  Such joy, such total and complete love as I had never, ever experienced.

My sister Catharine and I washed and dressed him ourselves, our final gift to him.  We laid him on an oak body board that her husband Robert had made for him. We wrapped him in colorful cloth-paisley pattern, solids, brights-friends and family had donated in the months ahead of his death.  On his chest we placed a dream catcher made by our sister, we tucked a self-portrait done by our youngest brother under his arm.  We rested his head upon a crochet quilt, made by our mom.  And we went with him to be cremated.  I was in the first car behind the hearse that would take him to the cemetery, along with my younger brother in the seat beside me.  As we were winding our way up the steep hill leading to the cemetery, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a bird coming right at my car, a bird with a HUGE wing-span.  Except that it was no regular bird.  Holy shit! is all I could think or say-it was an EAGLE, wings spread wide, and it swooped down and passed right in front of my windshield!  What makes this all the more stupefying is that, in the previous week, as I sat with Kysa, I would gaze out his window, to a stand of rocks not too far away, and watch as an eagle would drift high above on the wind currents.  I saw this eagle numerous times, drifting, swaying  on the winds, as Kysa drifted, swaying with the currents of his body…was this the same eagle?

We all went into the huge building that housed the crematoria.  Each person there was invited to step up to him and say whatever they wanted to say, and kiss him goodbye if they so wished.  We piled him with colorful flowers, representing each of his family/friends who weren’t able to be there.  We rang chimes, we read aloud.  It was just impossible for me to walk away from him, but I finally did.  His widow Sarah, wanted to be alone with him as the gurney delivered his body to the flames.  I was walking out with Catharine, and, as I lifted my foot to breach the door sill, I heard a great “whoosh!” sound, and I turned around and looked, and, from the chimney atop the building, saw a puff of white smoke.  Yes, I knew what it was, but, once again, I was taken aback at the feelings that arose in me when I saw it-feelings of joy so strong, so triumphant, that I wanted to leap in the air, and scream “YES!!” as Kysa’s spirit was finally released to the skies above, a clear, bright blue sky on a very cold January day in southwest Colorado.   He had been freed from the body that so constrained him during his illness, and, in that, I could only feel beauty, and, as if life had finally done something right.  It was merely the completion of what had gone on in his room as he was dying.  And it took me many years, and much exploration, before I was able to give words to what that entire experience had been for me, from the time I stepped in his room to see him staring at the far right corner, to the sight of white smoke raising up to the skies, carrying my beloved brother to the next place….

Always loved, never forgotten…

It was the day my spirit opened up, and expanded, and saw life, and beauty, as I’d never seen it before.  My eyes opened,  and I felt, and I saw, and knew,  and my life opened and was never the same…

the moments that changed my life forever~

From my Journal   January 16, 1996
I think we are saying goodbye to Kysa.  Have spoken to Maggie who heard from Catharine. She has been to see Kysa in the hospital-they signed a release form to take him off the saline IV.  He has a morphine drip, which he is able to administer as he needs.  When Maggie first spoke to Catharine, she said when she saw Kysa, to please go to him for us and look him right in the eyes, and tell him everyone of us, and mention us name by name, love him and we are praying.  She did that and she spoke to him and told him that we would all be okay if he had to go.  And she said, for a brief minute, he opened his eyes and looked right at her and told her “I’m not worried anymore.”  Catharine said his skin is almost translucent, and today his spirit was coming through more strongly than she has seen it in a very long time.  The doctors from hospice said that they would estimate a week to 10 days on the outside; given the condition his body is in.  They did say his heart and lungs are fairly strong still:  it’s just the rest of his body that is shutting down.  So he is getting no nourishment-he sipped a little 7-up, but that’s all.  He is not able to swallow anything.  But he has found a measure of peace-thank you God, for that.  And Catharine is truly making an effort.  She told Maggie that anybody should call her at anytime, and she is being supportive and compassionate with mom and dad.  I had real concerns how things would go.  She seems to have changed though and wants to do all she can to be the message center, and allow everyone else to do things, as they need to.  I don’t know if David is out of the country, I don’t know if Ken has been called.  All the practical matters of death must be dealt with-we can at least all rest easy that Kysa is finding some peace.
Jan 20
Aboard Continental heading towards Houston, then Denver.  I never thought to be doing this back in June I thought that was it, and that I’d said goodbye to Kysa.  Now that I have decided to go, I worry that he will die before I get there.  And I worry that the plane will crash, and I’ll die, and how will mom and dad deal with the deaths of 2 children.  And I worry that when Chuck goes into talk to Pat on Monday about Walt and how out of hand he is, and if they fire him or demote him, then Walt is the high wire type that would come back with a grudge and shoot Sarge.  It’s all-irrational, I know, but at the moment I’m feeling very shaky.  Neither Sarge nor I slept much last nite.  Alec had gone to spend the night with a friend, but he called at 1:30 and asked if he could come home because he was homesick. Thank goodness Lawrence’s folks understood, and they drove him home.  I know that what it was is my leaving, and Kysa being so ill, and me being upset about it.  This is all so unreal, even if it was anticipated.  And to be honest, a part of me still believes that Kysa will come through this too.  That he won’t get any better, but that he will linger on and on like this.  And I have trepidation about being in Durango.  I know I will be crying, and I don’t know if it will be accepted, and for me, that means, they don’t accept me.  I have talked to myself, and made plans in my head but it is stressful going into it, especially not knowing what is going to happen-and knowing how traumatic it was in June.  And yet I feel I need to go-for Kysa, for myself, for mom and dad, for Maggie and Joseph, since they can’t.  If Kysa is going to die, and it seems as though he is, I want to be there, if I can, to share as much as I can, his journey.
2nd leg of my journey”
A change of planes in Houston.  I hadn’t realized we would be stopping there.  In the midst of all my emotions, I stopped to think it was pretty neat to be in Texas, if only at the airport.  It’s the only time I’ve been there since I was born.  This trip is awfully long, made longer, I’m sure, because of my anxiety to reach Kysa.  Once I get into Denver, there is a long layover to Durango.  That part of the trip is absolutely one I’m not looking forward to-I hate the little puddle jumpers over the mountains.  Really working the tools of the program—
3rd Leg”
Caught an earlier flight to Durango.  I’m exhausted and the closer I get, the more pain I feel.  The Rockies, snow-covered, are below me. Their magnificence proves to me there is a God.  I need to hold close to my spirituality in the next weeks-that will get me through this.  I talked briefly to Sarge in Denver.  I miss him, I miss his strong arms and loving words.
Jan 21
I am here with Kysa, sitting at his bedside.  I have prayed, I have meditated, and now I try to put words to paper.  What is going on is so big that it is difficult to put it on paper.  I wish I had Joseph’s creativity and artistry; maybe it would be easier.  Every so often, the morphine drip gives a soft “zzzt” sound.  Helped Kysa shift in the bed, he had slipped down.  He sleeps mostly-but every so often he’ll open his eyes and move his hands.  Sometimes he will drink a sip of water.  His throat hurts, which makes it hard for him to swallow.  Sarah rented him a hospital bed, which is good, and he has flannel sheets on it, with a down comforter.  That will make Maggie feel better.  She was worried about that.  I worry about my competence to take care of Kysa-I want to, and am more than willing.  I’m just afraid I’ll do something wrong.  He speaks only in the barest whisper-it is very difficult to understand him.  I hope this doesn’t sound too awful, but I sit here and think, what if Kysa should die while I’m here?  What do I do?  My heart breaks for him; he is such a shell of who he was.  The tumors in his neck have grown from under his ear to down to his collarbone.  There is such a thin layer of skin to cover him.  Around his neck he wears a necklace of amber beads with a jade Buddha.  I pray that God will have mercy on him and release him from this.

Jan 22, 2:45pm
Bonnie (Hospice) just left.  She’s a lovely, warm person.  Took all Kysa’s vital signs-his blood pressure is low but she says that is not necessarily indicative of anything, as he has always had low BP.  He is to be given as much morphine as he wants, to be comfortable.  There is some fluid in his lungs, and that is indicative of the stage of death; his heart cannot pump fast enough to distribute liquid so it settles into a dependent area.  She does not think he will die today-though she said there are no firm ways to predict.  She did tell us other signs to look for.  He has some bedsores but he doesn’t want to move positions and Bonnie said at this point she isn’t too concerned about them.  The next few days should see this done.
Meanwhile, I don’t even allow the thought inside my head as to what the possibilities are with mom.  Maggie told me yesterday on the phone that she has noticed a large growth on mom’s left breast.  It is large enough that it is noticeable under her blouse.  She at first thought she was imagining it and she asked Joseph and Eric if they had noticed anything.  They had noticed the same thing.  When Maggie questioned mom about it, she said mom almost seemed angry that she had mentioned it, and quickly changed the subject.  The one thing I know out of it all is that mom won’t go have it checked.  And I have fear that it truly might be a cancerous tumor, and I can’t begin to deal with that yet.  I am not surprised, if it is something, that it is a growth over her heart.  I know Kysa’s illness and pain have broken her heart, and I don’t know that she will much survive him.  All I can do is continue to pray, and then pray some more.
Jan 25, 4:15 pm
My heart breaks for Kysa.  I was just watching him as he was lying in bed, and he turned his head to the window and looked out.  What does he think about as he lies there, basically immobilized?  Whenever he moves, it is in slow motion, or like he’s moving underwater.  He has quite a bit of pain in his legs and we have upped the morphine in the last 24 hours to more than twice from Monday.  It is now 9 mgs.  I wasn’t able to write yesterday, too busy caring for Kysa, too tired from being up, too emotional with what’s going on.  The days are all starting to run together, so I maybe repeating myself at times.  There have been some special moments:  Kysa eating the fresh snow that Robert R. brought him, Kysa, when I was talking to him about the lights, and moving down the tunnel, looking right at me saying, albeit in a near whisper “I know all about that crap!”  Kysa asking me about my can of Pepsi, asking me to massage him, him reaching for my hand twice last niter, and saying to me that I must be exhausted.  I have prayed and prayed and now, very often, I beg God to release his spirit.  Please, God, what is being accomplished by this?  His body is covered in the mottled purple bruising that happens, huge purple welts.  His feet and legs hurt, my heart breaks over and over again.  Mom sent a beautiful letter to Kysa and Sarah, which arrived today.  Kysa was conscious enough to have it read to him.
“In my imagination, I am in the same room you are, making you as comfortable as possible, and putting all my love in the atmosphere around you.   That is my wish for you, that you are surrounded by people who love you and keep you comfortable, and that you are at peace.
Everyone in your family wants the very best for you-your father, Joseph, Maggie, Robert, Alison, Catharine, Dave, Ken, your nieces and nephews, and me.  I participate spiritually at Mass everyday, uniting myself to the millions of people in every place and circumstance in the world-all of us offering this powerful prayer.
My special thanks to you, Sarah, for your generous spirit and the love and energy you are giving to Kysa.  I appreciate every effort you make, and my prayers are always for you to continue to be able to do all the things you are doing for Kysa.  Try to allow yourself some rest when possible, and remember that everyone is sending you love, best wishes, energy-whatever you need at this time.  My love to you both and prayers, Mom.
Jan 26, 1996
Kysa Charles Mandeville Miller died this morning at 3:00 am.  Sarah and I were here with him, and with a little distance, I will be able to take in the huge experience this all has been.  I believe I am numb at the moment-lack of sleep and such an intense amount of emotion-and relief that it is finally over.  Shock that its over because a part of me believed it would go on forever, and the surreal feeling of it all.  I have cried, but I know there is much more.  I need to come to grips with the physical aspect of it-the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, the pain of seeing my brother suffocate.  There are memories that I need to learn to view in another perspective.  It was at once the most dreadful and terrifying and most life-giving event of my life.  Around 6:00 last night we were just having a conversation.  Sarah had just come home early from class.  And she suddenly got this look on her face and cried “Kysa, what’s wrong?”  He was starting to strangle and she propped him up.  I thought that he was going to die at that point-I had no idea how long it would actually take.  From that point on the whole thing blurs-we got Kysa to breathe a bit more normally but we knew he was starting the process and I called Robert Royem to have him and Catharine come over.  She was still in class but he came over and we started talking Kysa through his pain.  We told him to let go, fly away.  There were tears in all of our eyes-he was struggling so.  At some point Catharine called and I told her to come over immediately.  She brought Jessica, Audrey, and Alysa.  To an outside observer it was, I’m sure, a fascinating scene.  We prayed, we meditated, we did Reiki on Kysa, anything to help him.  I tried reaching our brother Robert at Farquarht’s-but the music there was so loud they couldn’t hear me, and hung up.  A few minutes later I took the phone outside to try again.  This time I was able to reach him and told him to come over. God, the feeling of relief was indescribable!  I knew Robert needed the opportunity to spend time with Kysa, given all that has gone on in the past months.  Robert came over and it broke my heart all over again to see him kneeling next to Kysa and holding his hand.  Kysa was in and out of it by now-but amazingly lucid considering the amount of morphine he was getting.  He knew Robert was there and they held hands for a long time.  Kysa looked right at him and told him to take care of himself.  I kept busy with giving Kysa ice chips or water-he was so very thirsty, or massaging his legs and arms.  There was a certain consciousness throughout the evening-amazing really.  Audrey fixed his feet for him at one point, and he winked at her.  He continually asked for water and at one point wanted some of Catharine’s peach juice.  She put some on her finger and rubbed it on his lips and in his mouth.  There was a point in the evening at which we could see he was wanting to let go, and he said he was ready.  Yet his body continued to hang on.  Lots of water, he said, people were made of water, lots of fun in water.  He looked at all of us and said we were all wonderful people.  The physical aspect of what was happening was horrible to watch really-his body turning purple where the blood was congealing, the terrible thirstiness.  We kept telling him to go towards the light, that Grandpa was waiting for him.  I was very proud of myself that all of it, I was able to handle-I didn’t fall apart.  I got ice for him, cold cloths; he was burning up internally, massaged his arms and legs.  Through parts of it, he had us all laughing-his sense of humour was there.  There were tears too, lots of them.  Near 11:00 or so, we realized we were going to need more morphine for him before morning, and I was to go and get it.  Catharine sent Jessica and Alysa home with Robert at that point, and I dropped Robert M. off at his apt after picking up the morphine at Mercy.  When I got back to the house, Sarah changed the syringe-he was getting quite a lot by that point.  He was thirsty and I stood to give him another ice chip. At that moment, he clutched his head and let out a horrifying cry-and stopped breathing.  I will never forget that moment.  I don’t know how long passed and I went to the phone to call Catharine and tell her that Kysa had died.  While I was on the phone, Sarah called me from the bedroom, and I went back in and he had started breathing again.  It was the apnea that I had read about.  And that is when the torturous part started, of watching my brother suffocate.  He was saying throughout the evening to help him and we did all we could to make him comfortable, but we were limited.   From midnight on, he was making a horrible breathing sound-it was so constant-I never though it would end.  He had consented to a pair of socks by then, and we covered him with the flannel sheet and a light blanket.  We begged him to let go, but he didn’t seem able to.  After listening to it for a while, Sarah took his drum, and started pounding it lightly.  I stroked his hair and arm and told him to let go, to fly free.  I have never loved anyone so much as I did Kysa in those moments.  He struggled so.  Earlier in the evening, I had seen the moment in his eyes where he became ready and he said he was, and that there were so many choices.  I truly felt he was looking directly at God.  And now, in those final few hours, I had to realize that most of Kysa’s spirit had already left, and just a small part remained to finish the physical aspect of death.   It wrenched my heart to see-he was struggling so, and for brief flashes, I would see consciousness in his eyes, and a tear fell from his right eye.  I almost lost it then and tried to cover my ears to the noises he was making.  I went out to the living room and begged God over and over, let is stop, please make it stop, why does he have to suffer so?  When I went back in, Sarah was lying half on the bed and I told her we had to sleep-this could go on for hours.  The morphine was as high as it could go on the dial; I felt that if we could give him enough more to relax him physically, that he might be able to let go spiritually, so Sarah and I used the syringe to pump more in.  The sounds he was making continued, but more slowly.  It seems the physical pain had been distracting him.  I fixed the pillows for Sarah-she lay down next to him with her hand over his heart, and I covered her, and I lay down on the futon couch beside his bed.  I didn’t think I would be able to sleep with the breathing noises he was making, it was so loud, but Sarah and I were both so exhausted that the moment we put our heads down, we were asleep.  I’ll never know what woke me up, but at 3:00 am I woke suddenly and stood up, and called Sarah’s name.  She woke at the same time and we realized the noise had stopped, and we looked at Kysa and realized that he had died.  His body had been getting cold even before we slept, and his lips blue, but now he was cold all over.  It was shocking to realize it was my brother lying there; I didn’t know what to do, so I went to make tea for Sarah, and then I called Catharine to tell her.  So much of what happened is a blur.  I made phone calls to Maggie, to dad, to Joseph, and my heart broke anew each time I said he had died.  Once Catharine arrived, she went into the bedroom and I went out to the living room.  I had so much pain inside of me that I didn’t know what to do, so I lay down on the couch.   I don’t know how much later it was when Catharine came out and asked if I wanted to go back to her house to sleep.  I didn’t know if I wanted to or not but it was an action to take, so I went and asked Sarah if she wanted me to stay and she said it didn’t matter.  She was lying next to Kysa on his bed, her arms around him.  I didn’t realize she was in shock too.   I put on my boots and went over to Catharine’s. It was over….

A Scattering my brother moment~

I was raised in a military family, one of eight kids.  My rating in the family (numerically, not emotionally!) was 4th from the top, or the youngest of the oldest 4.  Right below me was my brother Kysa (though he was named Chuck at the time-he later changed his name) (as did I, but that’s another blog!).  Some of my sibs were born overseas, some born here in the good old US of A.  I was born in Texas, and, shortly afterwards, my parents were sent to Alabama, to Redstone Arsenal, in Alabama, which is where Kysa was born.

In this traveling that Handsome Husband and I have done, we went to my birthplace of Ft Hood, Texas, and lately, we finally made it to Redstone Arsenal. I sought it out with intent. Along with me, on this part of the trip, I was carrying my brother’s cremains.

Its been a long journey for me with this.  Kysa died in January 1996, of Hodgkins cancer.  I was with him in his last week, and with him when he died, and what I experienced with him changed my life forever. It started me on my hospice path, giving support first as a volunteer, to those who were dying, and then in bereavement support, where I started many groups, and assisted family members through the painful process.  So, yes, a long road, but oh, how much I’ve learned!

So now, in the chill weather of January, Handsome Husband and I drove through the base at Redstone, and I looked around and wondered at all that must have changed since my dad had been stationed there.  The only idea I had for scattering Kysa was that I wanted it to be in a bit of an isolated spot, and I wanted a “nature-y” spot.  I’d prepared myself with 2 yellow carnations as a gift to my brother, one from me, one from Handsome Husband.  It didn’t take us long to find a small park, covered in trees, and I knew it would be as perfect a place as I could find for him.

I’d given some thought to Kysa’s connection to this place. Like me, he was very young when he left Huntsville (and by young, I mean, waaayyy young, as in…baby!), and so I knew he himself wouldn’t have had an emotional connection to his birthplace. There was none for me there, either. What inspired me to do this was maybe more a way of completing the cycle.  Redstone is where Kysa entered this world, and that is what had meaning for me.

I’ll let these pictures describe how it was for me, scattering Kysa’s cremains that day-another letting go….

 I didn’t scatter all of his cremains-there are some still in the little leather bag that he made for me years ago.  At some point soon, as we continue along our way, we’llstop again at the Sand Dunes outside of Crestone, CO-the place Kysa loved, where he said his wedding vows shortly before becoming ill, the place where he ran, and leaped, and danced. There, I’ll leave the remainder of my brother, with a blessing, a thank you to him for so enriching my life,
in ways so unexpected, and with a fullness in my heart that will linger always…..
Kysa’s sister

a true treasure trove moment~

I visited my Aunt Linda today, here in California-she is the widow of my mom’s brother Les, who died a few years after my mom. I’d always been fascinated by the fact that my mom and her brother were born seven years apart, on the same day-what are the odds? And, additionally, I met a cousin of mine, her son Kevin, whom I’d never met-and here I am 51 years old! I grew up in a military family, moving frequently, and I never knew much of my extended family as a result, but here was the opportunity, and I’m so glad it worked out!

The treasure trove….my uncle Les and my mom used to always refer to me as the family historian-I”ve always loved finding out about ancestors, recording events, the whole nine yards. And it touched me to my bones that my Uncle Les really did consider me so-and as a result, left to me, when he died, this treasure box that my aunt passed along to me yesterday. A computer paper box, very heavy, very plain looking-giving NO indication of the walloping emotions that lay inside…

My uncle’s death, also from cancer, shook me again when it happened-for himself, a man I loved, and for another link to my mom being gone-you will know what I mean when I say that. It was painful all over again, and I eventually put it into its’ place in my life, and continued on, as we do. Well, I have to say, this simple cardboard box, packed a wallop that was as overwhelming as could be. I waited until we were at our hotel to open it, and was not in any way prepared for what lay within. There are books that belonged to my grandpa, my mom’s dad, who was a Presbyterian minister, journals he kept from the 1920’s about his ministry, about his marriage, about my mom, letters he wrote, memorial cards from when my grandma died, burial information about his second wife, who was Scottish, and her sea captain father, birth and death certificates for all of them, notes and letters of family members when my brother Kysa died, when they found out about my mom’s illness 6 months later….it goes on and on. It will take me months, probably longer, to go through all the information. And I am honored that Uncle Les left this to me, that he thought so much of me that he did this.

There is so much more in that box then what is physical. Inside, I found that my uncle thought of me and who I was as much as I thought of him and who he was. That sounds simple, but I only met him a few times, and I hadn’t realized that fully. One of the first things I read in there was a note from him to his sister, my mom, saying how devastated they were to learn of her illness,and notes from other family from when she died. Pictures, so many of them, of forgotten days and memories. All good, and all too much to take in at one sitting. I had to put it away.  The tears were as sudden and the pain as fierce as if it were all new. Inside this box are the papers that are my grandma and my grandpa, my Uncle Les, my mom, my many people who meant so much to me who are gone. And as I go through these papers, and build their stories, and renew my memories, I will be honored again that Uncle Les thought enough of me that he gifted me with all of this, and I will grieve again that these loved ones are gone, and I will celebrate that they lived, and I will add to my life and my memories by reading, and reading some more, and realize again that our story is just that–our story, and that each person who knew these same family members knew them in a different way than I did, and that will broaden my story of them, the living, and maybe add more to my relationship with them in this life. A moment to realize and grow and remind me to make this life I have count in as many ways as possible, a moment to know that I am blessed to still have opportunity to change me, to change my relationships, to build my story, to maybe have something of quality to leave behind me….

Thank you from my heart, Uncle Les, for gifting me with more of the story of my mom, of my brother, of you..


a Sand Dunes moment~

I’ve spent many years saying goodbye to my brother Kysa. It was my experience with him as he was dying that ultimately led me to my work with hospice and then Tapestries of Hope.  Its been 13 years now since he died, and this was my first time back in Durango, CO, where he lived and died, and my first time at the Sand Dunes near Alamosa CO, since his death. You can see the dunes from a great distance–there is a huge span of white in the midst of the mountains. At the entrance to the Dunes is Blanca Peak–a spot thought to be sacred by the Navajo. It is there that they believed that spirits enter and leave this world. I love that idea–it is a breathtaking piece of mountain. My brother Kysa loved the Sand Dunes and I have videos of him running and leaping down the dunes, thoroughly enjoying himself. So the idea of his spirit having left the world there at that spot was comforting to me. 

Blanco Peak in the background

Handsome Husband and I crossed Medano Creek, which flows down from the mountains. It was very low at this time of year, but I have memories of splashing and playing in it with my kids, when it was knee high and wonderfully warm. You cross a bit of sand, and then–there are the dunes! The highest one rises 750 ft–I wasn’t terribly enthused even about climbing the lower ones!  It looks much easier from below than when you are actually confronting them. We had an hysterical time sliding down the one, and then attempting to climb the next one–basically you step in place, going nowhere, but falling numerous times. We finally got to the top of one, and I sent Handsome ahead of me to climb the next one, and took a break on the one already conquered. Has anyone seen the Stephen Colbert show-the one where he was talking about being in Iraq in the midst of a dust storm, and he said he felt like he was being polished? Well, that’s how I felt–the wind was blowing up to 35 mph and I had to duck my head to avoid it as much as possible. It was while I was sitting up there, contemplating the mountains around me, listening to the silence, thinking of my brother, that I decided to return to this place again, and this time bring his cremains that I’ve been keeping for so many years. I’m going to bring them here, climb as high as I can, say a special prayer of letting go, and scatter him to the winds in the place he loved so much. Its time…..

with our brother David