Infinity

Every morning I tell myself that today is the day to finally sit down and write about Laurel. Today is the day to wrap my head around and put into words what happened. But, it’s almost as if I don’t write about it here, then it maybe it didn’t happen. Then maybe it’s not real.

Except it did, and it is.

And I can’t avoid this space forever.

***

It’s been more than a month now since Roth’s mom, our sons’ beloved GrammaLo, passed away. She died as a result of colon cancer that she battled as long and hard as she could for the last year and a half. She left this earth in peace, at home and surrounded by her closest family and lifelong friends. Some of her last hours were spent with Roth and his brother Lane, who held her hands and reassured her that it was OK to let go. Roth showed her pictures of Rowan and Milo on his phone, pictures that I’d texted him from earlier that same day. She couldn’t talk anymore by then, but he said he saw a tear fall from the corner of her eye.

She was just 62.

***

Today she would’ve turned 63.

It’s still unimaginable that Laurel got sick, let alone that she’s now gone. She was one of the healthiest, most vibrant people on the planet. She did everything right, everything she was supposed to do in order to live well into her nineties, just like her mother and her grandmother before that. She never smoked, rarely drank. She exercised, ate a balanced diet, took vitamins. She never even had a cavity in her life. And yet, none of that mattered because somehow she still got cancer.

The cancer was already stage 4 when she was diagnosed. It had spread to her liver, but it was too risky to do surgery. She managed to fight it for many months with chemo. “Stay positive!” she always said in her Caring Bridge updates. And so we did our best. I never Googled the odds. I never let my mind wander into a world without her in it. For a while, she seemed to be doing pretty well. The side effects of the chemo were minimal, manageable enough that she could travel a bit. She went to Tucson and Hawaii, and she came to Seattle to be with us for the birth of her second grandchild.

But things took a turn after the Seattle trip. She started experiencing a lot of pain, and the side effects of chemotherapy returned. She lost more weight, grew weaker by the week. In early July we got a call from Roth’s dad after a visit to her doctor at Stanford. He said it’d been determined that there wasn’t anything else her doctor could do for the cancer, and he recommended shifting from curative treatment to pain management. It was a short phone call, but Manny’s few words spoke volumes. We could read between the lines. We knew then that it wouldn’t be long, so we started planning a trip down to California.

On the drive down, we told Rowan that his GrammaLo was very sick, which was why we were going to see her, and he seemed to understand, but nothing could really prepare any of us for those next few days. She was in a lot of pain, and the first two days of our visit were, according to Roth’s dad, some of her worst days ever during her cancer fight. It wasn’t an easy decision, but Manny finally agreed to call hospice.

There is definitely a stigma attached to seeking help from hospice. It can feel like defeat, I’ve heard, like throwing in the towel, but just a day after receiving care from hospice nurses, Laurel was more comfortable and feeling less pain. Hospice couldn’t change the inevitable outcome, but I think we all felt relieved that her suffering had been lessened as she headed into her final chapter.

It was such a bittersweet visit, but I’m so glad we were able to see Laurel when we did. After she was set up with hospice, she had a couple of decent days, relatively speaking. She was able to eat a little, enjoy sitting next to Rowan while he played games on a tablet, and touch and feel Milo’s baby feet and hands. A few times, I was able to put him down for a nap right next to her while she napped. Roth and I both chatted with her about everyday things, just as we would have during any other visit before.

But this wasn’t like any other visit. We couldn’t stay forever, and soon it was time for us to head back to Seattle. Before that, Roth’s dad asked him if he’d come back “when things got really bad.” Of course, he said, but later we talked about how it seemed like things then were already really bad. How could they get worse? I managed to keep myself together until we had to say goodbye. When it was Ro’s turn to give her a hug, I lost it. She hadn’t been able to speak much above a hoarse whisper during our entire visit, but clear as day I heard her say to him, “I love you infinity.” Then Roth held Milo on her lap so she could look right into his face, and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. That was the last time Rowan, Milo and I would see her.

***

I’ve grappled with whether or not I want to write about the details of Laurel’s last two weeks, and I think the answer is no. Not here. It’s not my story to tell, I wasn’t there in the final moments, and out of respect for the family, I don’t want to make anyone relive that intense and emotional experience.

Roth did make it back down to see her one last time, and he was by her side — along with his dad and brother, her sister, and some very good friends — when she passed. I remember exactly what I was doing when I got the text from Roth. It’d been a very long and challenging day of solo parenting the boys. I was in the kitchen, frantically trying to get dinner on the table while Rowan complained from the dining room that it was taking too long for his noodles and Milo whined at me from the bouncer. I saw the text in the midst of making pesto, and my heart sank. Even though I knew that moment was coming, it was still a shock, and I instantly ached to see and hold Roth. As life chaotically swirled around me in the kitchen, a life had ended in a room just off another kitchen. It was all too much, and too soon.

Fuck cancer.

***

Roth is doing OK. His brother seems to be doing OK, too. Roth’s dad is dealing, mostly focused on regrouping and reorganizing his own life after sharing it with someone for 43 years. He has plans to get away for a while, to go someplace warm, but now he’s reeling again after the death of his own mom, who passed away a month and a day after Laurel. She was 90. I think it’s high time the Universe give my father-in-law a break from all this sadness.

Life goes on because it has to, and it’s what she would want for her family, but this is the sort of loss we’ll feel in different and unexpected ways, for some time to come. Our day-to-day lives here in Seattle are the same, but it’s the bigger picture that’s still unclear. Grief sneaks up on me, in the quiet moments I share with Milo, or the conversations I have with Rowan. I reach for my phone, to send her a text or a pic of the kids, and then I remember. Roth said he listened to his dad make phone call after phone call to family and friends after she passed away, and he kept saying the same thing: her biggest regret is not being able to see her grandsons grow up.

That’s the lump in my throat, too.

***

There’s so much more to say about Laurel, more than the 330-word obituary I wrote for the local newspaper, more than the 1,300 or so words in this space. I’m thinking a lot about how I want to honor her legacy, how I want to ensure Rowan and Milo remember this amazing woman. There are photos and videos, of course, but there is the intangible, too. The way she loved her sons, and loved being a mother. I want my own sons to feel that same sort of love. I want to be the kind of mother to them that she was to Roth and Lane.

She was a daughter, a sister, a friend. She was a wife, a mother. She was a teacher, a mentor. She was a grandmother. She was GrammaLo.

Lo collage bw
She will be missed infinity.

Share

18 Comments

  1. Oh, Jen. My heart breaks for you and your family. What a beautiful gift you had in her, taken far too soon. I can’t offer anything but my deep and lasting condolences that the pain lets up sometime soon.

    I never met my mom’s grandmother, but she shaped my mom’s life in such a significant way that my mom talked about her so often and so emotionally. I have always felt that love so deeply, enough that I framed a photo of my great-grandmother on a wall in my house. I imagine what kind of woman she was often, as I walk by that photo. She is loved, even by a generation of people who will never know her.

    Love and stories keep those gone with us always. And you have so much of both.

  2. Jen, I cried when I saw your original FB status about her passing. This beautiful entry you’ve shared with us? I’m wrecked on your behalf. You captured her spirit and your final moments with her in the most amazing way.

    You, Roth, your sweet boys, and all of Laurel’s friends and family are in my thoughts.

    You know how colon cancer has fucked my family over, too. I hope to see an end to its reign before my lifetime is over.

    Sending much love.

    xoxo

  3. Heidi

    Jen, this is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever written. I feel the sadness and am now at my desk crying. I never met her, but after reading this, I feel like I’ve known her my whole life. You and Roth will naturally raise your boys just like she did–and they will grow up to be wonderful men, just like Roth and his brother are. Because people like her leave behind the perfect example of the way we should all be–kind, warm, generous and full of love. There’s nothing I can say here to make it any easier for you, only time will do that. But no matter how much time passes, the memories you have of her will never fade. It takes a very special person to leave a mark like that…

  4. Lin and Ev Fritz

    Oh Jen, I just want to curl up in a ball and cry and cry. Lo will be missed for the rest of my life. She was like a sister to me for 50 plus years. She was the kind of friend that we search for and if lucky find at least one. I cherish all our memories. Just shocked about Manny’s mom, but then again I knew she had many issues. She’s with Lo and Manuel now just waiting for all her other love ones to join her. We’ll give Manny a call in a few days to give him our love and support. His plate is full, but we know he will be coming to visit us in the near future, and that’s when the big hugs will take place. Our love to you, your little men and of course Roth. Lin

  5. Oh, Jen. How I cried with you, reading this. I am very sorry. Wish there was more I could say or do, but know my heart is with you and your aching family. Grief comes in waves–don’t let anyone rush you. Fuck cancer. I hate this news but let us lift that heaviness for a bit. . . I am grateful that she was a part of your life. Lots of love.

  6. Oh my god, the tears. I was already losing it by the third paragraph, but then “I love you infinity” happened, and yeah. Fuck cancer. Much love to you all.

  7. I always thought being there when my dad died would make it better, would make the loss more palatable somehow. Watching my grandfather (someone who’d been in our lives as often as my mother has always been) pass away this past February didn’t lessen any of the grief. It felt real more quickly, I think, as we weren’t waiting around for closure that would take years to arrive, but I think a part of me was surprised it didn’t make it hurt less. It didn’t make it make any more sense. I’m convinced nothing really makes any of this hurt less; nothing really makes it make enough sense.

    I know you know that suddenly and to some stupid, incredibly rare, incredibly formidable strain of cancer was how we lost my aunt Anne, and how we lost Grandpa Ladish. I know you know I love you, we love you, so much, and all I can continue to hope is that while no amount of words and empathy can change anything, maybe it can somehow also change everything, even as the world can’t stop, won’t stop for you: Knowing there are others who grieve when you grieve and love when you love, and will always.

    All of that to say: Laurel was beautiful, from her insides to her outsides, the way you are, and the way Roth is, and the way your boys are. I feel lucky to have met her, to have seen her smile and heard her laugh, and will always. She’ll live on in the memories you both have, and in the stories you tell your boys. (We’re excited for more stories, too.) Until then, and perpetually: So much love, so many hugs, piling up for you, beloved friend.

  8. I am sitting on my couch — sobbing…again. I won’t ever forget the night my sister (Dani) drove to my house after work..I opened the front door…we hugged and sobbed together :( My heart ACHES for her two sons, especially her two grandsons, all the family and friends…but mostly, for Manny.

    This was beautifully written. Thanks so much for sharing.

  9. This was incredibly poignant, Jen. I’m sorry you lost someone so dear. Those pictures and the words you share speak volumes: what a wonderful woman she must have been.

  10. Oh Jen. My heart just breaks for your loss. This was a beautiful tribute–add me to the list of people who sobbed while reading it–but I’m so sorry you needed to write it.

  11. A lovely post, Jen. I’m glad you were able to write about it. We’ve had our own private correspondence already, so you know I echo your sentiments about cancer, hospice, death, etc.

    It’s so hard to know how to honor them while also making sure our children know who they were. Each day I can see I’m a lot like my mom, and so I hope my kiddos know her that way, while also feeling a little extra love that comes from the beyond. It’s not enough, but it has to be.

    My continued thoughts to Roth, you and the boys. I’m so glad Roth has you in his life. And even though I don’t know him, my thoughts to Roth’s father. These men (my dad included), who were taken care of for decades and who are now alone? They break my heart, but I know they’ll be fine.

  12. Patrice Hampton

    For some reason I am just now seeing this & I’m in tears, tears beyond expressing. I’m also doubly sad as from posts on her FB page today it seems as though something had happened to Manny too & my heart is breaking all over again. I am Laurel’s high school friend from FL & have known she & Manny for many many years. There was no one who was more the epitome of health than Laurel – no one happier – no one who loved life more – no one who loved her family more. I still canny believe she’s gone as she lives on forever in my heart. Please let me know about Manny – I send my love & prayers to you & all her family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.