An Ordinary Tuesday

There was no reason to panic, just because Dad had disappeared shortly before he was supposed to “walk me down the aisle.”

“Find Beth,” I said to Mom, who was there in the church’s multifunction room that was functioning as the bride’s dressing room.

Beth had been my problem solver for nearly three decades by the time I was getting married. And she’d never let me down.  Beth could calm the crazies in me better than anybody I’ve ever known.  Just knowing she was around, made everything OK.

And if you had a splinter or a cut or any injury at all?  Go to Beth.  That was true long before she became a nurse who treated premature babies.  If ever there was someone with nursing in their DNA, it was Beth.

Surely Beth could find Dad, who’d gone for a walk, and get the keys to the car from him.  Because, while I’d gotten my wedding dress out of the car, everything else I expected to wear, beginning with my underwear, was locked in the trunk.  And the keys were in absent Dad’s pocket.

Fast forward to 2009.  July 4th was just days away, John, Jacob and I were in Maine, and I was in a panic.  My eldest brother, Bob, had just been taken to the hospital.

For a decade approaching holidays had terrified me.  I suffered from “heortophobia”the fear of holidays.   Well, my heortophobia had a twist:  It wasn’t simply a fear of holidays.  Nope.  For me, it was a perfectly logical terror of illness at holidays.  Someone else’s illness.  Because If anybody I cared about had so much as a sniffle, well, they were gonna die.

As you may have heard 4,327 times, my family members have a nasty habit of dying on holidays.  They’ve hit the all big ones — In order of occurrence:  Thanksgiving.  Easter.  My birthday.  Christmas.  Ho ho ho!

So when Bob ended up in the hospital with Independence Day approaching, well, I knew Bob was toast.  The odds, and likely the Gods, were against him.

“He’s not that sick, Lease.”  Beth said.   “You’ve been sicker and survived.”  She’d contacted his doctors, figured out what was wrong, and called to reassure me.  Beth, a nurse, knew this sort of thing. But as a fake medical expert with then six years’ experience, I was learning more and more –enough to make me fear everything, actually .  So naturally, I wasn’t so sure.

“Beth,” I said, through slightly clenched teeth. “It doesn’t matter how serious his illness is.  It’s the dateA HOLIDAY IS COMING.  He’s going to die!”

As the eldest in the family, Beth had been able to calm me down my whole life long.  She didn’t fail this time, either.

“Nobody is going to be able to trump Dad dying on Christmas,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “The Holiday Death Sweepstakes is over, Lease.  Fourth of July?  Pffttt.  Independence Day isn’t even a contender!”

“I HATE holidays,” I moaned, panic starting up again.

“Lease, I’m gonna make you two promises.”  Beth had always kept her promises. “First, Bob will be fine.”

“Mmmm,” I replied, not believing it for a minute.  Still, I started to calm down.

“Second:  When I go, it’ll be on an ordinary Tuesday,” Beth laughed.  “I cross my heart and hope to die, Lease, I will not die on a holiday.  I mean it.  I couldn’t do that to you,” she laughed still harder. At me, not with me.  Had she been nearby, I might have smacked her for ridiculing me.  Hard.

Bob, whose illness wasn’t all that serious, was released before the holiday; his sentence commuted.  I breathed a sigh of relief, let me tell you.

Google Image, Natch

Google Image, Natch

But not for long.

On a Sunday, just over a month later, I called Beth.  We talked nearly every day.  Beth had had a pretty severe stroke two years previously. It affected her kidneys; she had been on dialysis for about two years.  Things hadn’t been going well, and she was more and more discouraged, depressed and disheartened.  More importantly, he hadn’t been feeling well in the last couple of days.

Still, I was surprised when her phone was answered by one of her sons.

“Mom’s in the hospital,” Chris told me.

It was a Sunday, though.  In August.  No holidays in sight.  So while I worried, there was no need to panic right?  Chris promised that he and his brother would keep me informed.

Late Monday morning, Dave, Beth’s eldest son, called me in tears.

“They don’t know if Mom’s gonna make it.”

I rushed home, packed a few things, and got into the car, and headed to Cleveland.

The weather was horrible.  Storms raged — the rain so heavy that I could barely see.  Traffic rushed by or crept along.  Trucks on the Pennsylvania Turnpike flew by at terrifying speeds when traffic moved.  But mostly, the highway was at a standstill, the rain not letting up.  I couldn’t get to Beth, and I couldn’t see to drive.

How much of my impaired visibility was due to my constant tears, and how much to the pouring rain, well, I didn’t know.

Dave called me again in the early evening to let me know that Beth was in a coma; they thought she would make it for another day or so.

So, exhausted I pulled onto an exit just above Pittsburgh, and into the first motel I found, where I collapsed into bed.

Beth’s doctor called me a few hours later.  Beth had taken a turn for the worse.  If I wanted to see her, to be with her, I’d better get back on the road.

I made it in time for Beth to personally deliver that second promise.  She died on an ordinary Tuesday, August 11, six years ago.

With her passing, Beth brought me an unexpected cure of my heortophobia, and even let me laugh at the bizarre trend she ended.

And on the way back?  The weather was clear.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike twists and turns through the mountains.  With each curve I rounded as I drove home, there was a rainbow.  Rainbow after rainbow.  I knew, seeing those colors in the sky, behind every turn, that Beth was comforting me still.

I miss you, Beth.  Oh, and I was the one who spilled nail polish remover on your new dresser in 1967.  Sorry about that.

87 Comments

Filed under Adult Traumas, Anniversary, Church, Crazy family members, Dad, Family, Heortophobia, History, Holidays, Huh?, Humor, Love, Maine, Missing Folks, Oh shit, Shit happens, Sisters

87 responses to “An Ordinary Tuesday

  1. Elyse, you have a way of telling a story, paying a tribute, and pulling a heart like no one else can. When I die, would you write something and post it for me? (I’m afraid of holidays, too…)

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  2. I’m so, so sorry for your loss. We’ve talked before about the pain of losing a sibling.

    Life seems to be like that, doesn’t it? You’re going along, everything is OK, and then WHAM! How wonderful that you have special people in your life to ride out those times with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re in a club that neither wants to be a member of, aren’t we. It is so important that we keep those feelings alive, though. And while I dwell on it far less frequently than my blog posts would indicate, it is so good to have this outlet. Blogging has really helped me heal.

      Cheers to you, Peg. I know your close family is facing some troubles too.

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  3. What a beautifully told story, and a moving tribute. Thank you for sharing your memories — both the grief and the laughter — with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That was a beautiful post. Heartbreaking, but exquisite. It’s been too long. I almost forgot how well you write.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I after I read your comment, I went over to your blog and forgot to respond to this one. Sorry about that.

      But thanks for your kind thoughts — I say a little bit late!

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  5. This is such a beautiful story. Sad, beautiful… life. I know that stretch of the PA turnpike all too well, and you described it perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sad, beautiful … life. That sums it up perfectly. Oh, there’s a lot of joy and laughter too! Thankfully!

      Welcome Robin. (And isn’t that a horrible road? Even in good weather it seems treacherous.

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  6. This one made me cry…in a good way.

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  7. Oh Elyse, what a beautiful story. You and your family, you continually give me hope of love of unbroken bonds. For this you have no idea how grateful I am.

    What a perfect two songs you picked.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In so many ways, I did luck out with my family. Then again, I generally only post the warm memories. We all had our differences (and I am not terribly close to the brother mentioned in this post).

      But so much of what you read about families and childhood on blogs is the stuff of therapy. Mine wasn’t. Except that shit about dying on holidays!

      Beth lived in NYC in the mid-sixties, and hung out often in Greenwich Village. She loved the folk scene, and saw PP&M and Joan Baez many times when they were all young. It must have been wonderful!

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  8. I’ve thought about this before. People must die on birthdays and holidays. Each Christmas and Thanksgiving always feels like a continuation of the memories and events of the previous year’s holiday, as though the holiday were on pause as the rest of the year passed. How can you continue to celebrate those special occasions?

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    • Those days are really hard, because rather than it being an ordinary Tuesday, it’s a day that everybody is supposed to enjoy in an “over the top” way. Ummm, no.

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  9. What a beautiful and poignant memoir, Elyse! It brought back painful memories for me.

    I was on duty in Hawaii when my father was dying in Oklahoma and I missed him by a day. We were young and living on a tight budget in those days. Michael was 2 1/2 and the twins were almost 1, so I relied on military flights. If I’d paid for a commercial flight, I might have made it.

    My father was a kind and staunch working man, a solid tower of strength and protection, but hardly one to normally talk of anything touchy-feely. He let his actions and his reliability speak for him. The last conversation, the one that never happened, would have been different. I loved him. The regret is a permanent presence in my heart.

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    • Your Dad sounds a lot like mine was.

      Time and money are hard when someone’s failing. I wasn’t there for my Mom, my sister Judy or my Dad. Even though other family members lived there, at the very moment, well, nobody was there for the three of them.

      When I was with Beth, a wonderful nurse sat with me. And she told me something that made me feel so much better — that there is always someone with the dying. It’s usually a nurse. But no one is truly alone.

      Or maybe everyone really is.

      Did it help being there? Sort of. Looking at her — she was in horrible shape — I knew that I didn’t want her to get up off that bed. Because life would not have been kind if she had, there was so much damage done (in a very short period of time). So I did get to see that she was/is better off.

      I know that was true for both my parents. But not for my other sister, Judy. She was pulled from life by the hair, I’m pretty sure, kicking and screaming. That death has been the hardest to accept because of that.

      I hope the nurse’s words help you ease the guilt.

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  10. cortney

    You write so beautifully about your family, Elyse. I hope yesterday brought rainbows to your skies!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So sweet… and sad. Your sister took care of you and calmed your crazies up to the very end. Sometimes siblings are just people you are related to, sometimes they are friends. You are so lucky to have a sister who was also your friend.

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  12. I won’t try to be funny. It wouldn’t be appropriate. I’ll just say what a beautiful post that was and how much I enjoyed reading it, though it choked me up.

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  13. Gutrenching…You made me feel things.

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  14. Leave it to her not to break that promise. What a good sis. So sorry holidays were tinged with such loss. My dad died a few days before Thanksgiving ( his fave holiday) and I still get sad whenever it rolls around. But my daughters bday is Nov so this helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She was a good sister. Taught me to love books.

      There really ought to be a law against deaths on or near holidays. But still, they suck anyway 😥

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  15. I’m so sorry for your loss on this date. I envy that you had such a special relationship with your sister, and am glad she broke the spell, helping you in death.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She was pretty terrific, and I too am glad that, while I don’t think I’ll ever really enjoy holidays again, I don’t dread them. That’s something — since in our society, we can’t get away from them!

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  16. Aww, it sounds like Beth knew you were coming and held on just long enough to keep her promise to you. I had a drive similar to yours (without the rain, though) when I got “the call” about my mother. I also made it in time, although my mother expired very shortly after I arrived – the nurses said they thought she was waiting for me.

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    • That is a nice thought, isn’t it. I’ve read that people in comas, as Beth was, ARE in fact, aware. I spent my time talking and reading to her.

      Funny thing, isn’t it? I was with Beth for the better part of that Tuesday, and the nurses couldn’t quite figure out what she was holding out for. And then it dawned on me — she’d been raised Catholic, and while at the time she wasn’t practicing, it occurred to me that she was waiting for. I had them get a priest, and she died minutes after he gave her Last Rites. THAT’s what she’d been waiting for. I’ve always thanked my lucky stars that I remembered in time. (I’m not at all religious)

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      • Wow. My mother wasn’t religious, and neither am I, but immediately after she died, I felt an overpowering need to have a minister or priest say a few words over her. There was a minister who lived up the hill from the nursing home, and he came right over. We all felt more peaceful for doing that.

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  17. Okay, I’m a mess. Wow. First, you are such an incredible writer, and second, what a beautiful tribute and story to share. As a nurse, of course it went straight to my heart!

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  18. Sad subject but a great story all the same. xxoo

    Liked by 1 person

  19. What a lovely story. You honored her so beautifully. xx

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  20. You’ve had so much loss in your life, and through it all, it sounds like you and your family have banded together and held each other up. What a touching story.

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  21. A sad but heartfelt story.

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  22. NotAPunkRocker

    What a sweet ending for her to know you wouldn’t have to associate it with a holiday. Very emotional story; I can definitely feel the love you have for her (and all your family)

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    • I was really lucky with my family. We’re very different people, and at times we are/were closer than others, but nearly always, we can find common ground.

      I’m glad that, if she had to go, she kept her promise!

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  23. She must have been a great friend for you to drive all the way to Cleveland. This is probably a sad day for you.

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    • That’s true — nobody goes to Cleveland without a damn good reason!

      Strangely, I’m not that sad. Missing her and thoughtful, but she was very ill, and very depressed because things for her were only getting worse. So it is kind of a mixed bag.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Bless Beth for keeping her promise, Elyse. And bless you for writing such a wonderful tribute and touching our hearts. On this Tuesday, I hope you have a peaceful day of happy memories.

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  25. That is a beautifully told story Elyse, about someone who sounds beautiful. And you tell it so well that I just want to know a Beth myself.

    In terms of the holiday trend… if you ran the odds, I think they would be heavily against this happening to you multiple times. I have to say, bugnuts. Just because I like that word and it seems relevant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Beth was pretty terrific, and I miss her. Although I generally don’t write about the times I want to wring someone’s neck when I’m feeling sentimental! And with any sister, those times are frequent!

      I don’t really understand how one would run the odds on something like this. But it would’ve been a hell of a jackpot!

      The thing I did win from Beth’s kept promise, is the ability to get beyond the other three deaths that I couldn’t do before. Because Beth was so sick and really so ready, that even in spite of her relatively young age (61) it was one of those blessed releases.

      And she let me laugh at the others, which really was a gift. You’ve probably seen this before, and I linked to it above. But this post (which doesn’t include Beth because she didn’t fit the narrative) healed me and let me accept the unthinkable, because I could hear Beth’s laughter as I wrote it: https://fiftyfourandahalf.com/2011/12/02/both-sides-now/

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      • Now that was quite a post (hadn’t seen it before, though had seen you write on this topic since)… between you and me, dude, I think you’re really excellent. There’s just so much heart to you. I hope I don’t sound tacky, but you seem to really feel this funny little life that we’re navigating through… craziness and all.

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  26. May your fond memories continue to give you peace … but did she ever know you were the one who spilled on the new dress?

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  27. Anyone who forgives the spill of nail polish remover on a dresser is a gem. Beth certainly had gem status for many reasons, especially for keeping her word and curing you of your fear of holidays.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, she didn’t so much forgive me as failed to prove that it was me who did it … I was a terribly good little liar as a child!

      And yes, I have a lot to thank Beth for!

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  28. I’m sorry, Elyse, for such a deep and enduring loss. But your Beth must be smiling at this tender and loving remembrance!

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  29. Oh, Elyse. You’ve experienced so much loss. This was a lovely testament to your sister, Beth and the relationship you shared. Much like I find my father in the pennies I find here and there, I hope you find Beth in the rainbows that shine from time to time. Just because it was an ordinary Tuesday doesn’t make it mean any less. I think Beth would be thrilled you remember her so eloquently–and probable a little pissed that you spilled nail polish remover on her dress.

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    • It’s funny. Beth’s physical presence wasn’t much. She wasn’t much of a gift-giver, and she was always something of a vagabond — moving from place to place constantly and on a whim. So it’s harder to touch something that she touched physically.

      But I will say that it is far better to remember her quietly, than to be thinking of someone and hearing folks shouting from the TV about how many days to Christmas, or that Reese’s Eggs are out or or or…. So while I don’t worry so much that anybody else will kick the bucket, I do just like to push on through holidays. I don’t think that will ever change!

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  30. What a mixed blessing…

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    • True. I’d rather she were here and healthy. But she really was declining rapidly and, well, there is some peace to knowing that she is out of pain. And that, literally, the last thing she did was keep her promise to me. That’s some lengths to go through for your little sister!

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  31. Paul

    That story is an emotional rollercoaster Elyse. It must have been so hard to live through. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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    • Maybe you’ve hit on why I don’t like rollercoasters, Paul! Because my life is one. But really, I don’t think anybody has it easy — you sure don’t! We just all have to deal with the shit flung in our paths as best we can.

      Sometimes when I’m reading your trucking stories, Paul, I find myself back on the Pennsylvania Tpke that night. I am pretty sure it would have been the most harrowing drive of my life even if I was just going for your average visit. I still shudder!

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      • Paul

        You know how songs seem to speak to you when you are experiencing strong emotions? When you drive a lot you will find that the roads also will also speak to you when you are experiencing strong emotions. In my memories many emotional points in my life are associated with different roads and different conditions. That said, the mountains in western Pennsylvania produce some wicked weather because they force the warm moist air from the seacoast up into colder air. This causes major release of precipitation and winds. Combine that with some of the most challenging driving on the east side of the continent and you have a challenging drive. The only thing you can be thankful for Elyse is that it wasn’t snow or freezing rain. I’ve been in those mountains and had to pull over because further travel was impossible.; Once I watched a tractor-trailer stop and then slide sideways across the road where it was banked. I got out and couldn’t stand up because of the black ice.

        Anyway, you done good Elyse. Such a heart-rending story.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, you’re right about the freezing rain and snow — it would have been much worse. Plus it would have meant that hell was freezing over, given that it was August!

          Places make me feel like you described. Where I was when I heard “X” Sometimes I am suddenly laughing over something that happened at a given place. Sometimes I just have to reach out and touch the ground, wishing I could go back in time before X happened. OH well, life is like that, isn’t it?

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