Aside from some book reviews, I’ve not blogged in a while. I just haven’t had any words. Plenty to say, but I couldn’t find the words. There are a lot of reasons for that.
Maybe it’s more accurate to say I don’t want to find the words. Putting the last few months into words makes it real. Even now, I don’t know where to begin. This is going to be a long post, a deep and complicated and emotional post, so if you want to bow out now, I won’t hold that against you.
In September, we lost our eighteen-year-old cat Squiddles. Her death wasn’t unexpected, but it was a tremendous loss.
Before we had a chance to even begin to recover, our youngest cat, Simcha, fell ill. A month to the day after we lost Squiddles, we had to put him down as well. His illness came out of the blue, totally blindsided us. To say it left us reeling would be an understatement.
I’d gotten the bulk of Molly’s book written by that point, which is a good thing because otherwise, it never would have made it to publication. About a week after we lost Sim, I ended up in the ER with a pinched C5-6 nerve in my neck. That caused muscle cramps and spasms from my neck down to the fingertips of my left arm, cramps so strong that as soon as you worked them out, they’d be right back. So there was a battle to fight, physical pain that was a distraction at least from the emotional pain of the losses of the cats. It literally took until the end of December before the pain was completely gone. Weeks of medical massages, doctor appointments, physical therapy, pain meds (not the really heavy stuff but heavier than I’m used to)… and not being able to write. I was physically unable to sit still or stand or even lie down for long periods of time, never mind write by hand or even type. Especially type. What caused it? Bad posture and stress. Let me tell you, having the ability to write taken away from me? That’s been hard to endure. It’s an injury on its own, I think. I’m still working on getting my words back, and I think I’m making some progress (this post being part of that), but I have a long way to go. I’m determined, but this road… I think it’s going to be bumpy and not without significant challenges. That leads me to what I’ve been putting off talking about. What I simply haven’t been able to face on paper.
In the midst of all the other pain, we were also dealing with deep and growing concern over my father-in-law’s health. For a couple of years, we’d known something was wrong. Despite dozens of visits to several doctors and specialists, they couldn’t figure out what was going on. None of Brad’s tests came back showing anything out of the ordinary. He’d survived colon cancer back in 2013 with only surgery, the doctors having caught it very early. But he didn’t bounce back the way he should have and no one could figure out why. By early 2015, he wasn’t able to work anymore. He couldn’t cut the grass—the heat bothered him to an extreme degree in a way it never had before. We lived next door to my in-laws at that point, and we simply had the kid who did our grass add their yard on, too. But not being able to do that bothered my father-in-law. He didn’t much like yardwork beyond cutting grass with the riding mower, but it bothered him that he couldn’t do it.
His symptoms were vague—loss of dexterity and strength in his hands, loss of balance, the inability to easily draw in a deep breath, insomnia. Then the gait issues started, and his walking started to change. He started to shuffle a bit. Next came the difficulty swallowing, which was attributed to some damage to his throat that had been done during the cancer surgery. His voice started fading, and the already soft-spoken man was finding it hard to communicate. Talking was just hard. He said early on that it felt like words were just hard to find, hard to form. Like his throat just didn’t work anymore the way it should.
When we moved to our new house, Brad was still driving, still doing errands, still doing some things around the house that didn’t involve being outside in the heat. He could talk, though his voice was fading, and he could eat. He could swallow. He was on oxygen at night, as he tended to smother, but he was fine during the day. That was in May of 2016.
By November, he’d lost at least forty pounds, probably more, and was on the verge of malnutrition. He had also lost the ability to talk, the ability to swallow everything except soft foods and liquids, and he had to have a feeding tube put in to keep him from starving to death. He couldn’t drive, couldn’t do anything around the house. His only forms of communication were through texting, e-mail, and by writing on a small whiteboard he carried. He’d lost the strength in the neck muscles that support the head, meaning his head was constantly bowed and he wasn’t able to do much of anything about it, and he could barely walk. There were still no answers as to what was going on, but anyone with half a brain in their head could look at the man and know something was very wrong. We were starting to suspect—strongly—that the problem was neurological in its origin. He didn’t have an essential tremor, but going down the checklist, a lot of his symptoms matched that of a Parkinson’s patient.
Around the time he had the tube put in, he had a consultation with a neurologist. The diagnosis? ALS. Motor neuron disease. Lou Gehrig’s disease. The very simplified explanation of ALS is that the nerve cells that control the body’s muscles stop working, even the muscles that make it possible for us to breathe. Everything, from the insomnia to the strength issue to the muscle twitches that plagued him for two or three years, came down to one insidious illness… And the worst part? There’s no cure. Further, there’s no real treatment.
When we saw my in-laws in mid December, we were told it wasn’t ALS. It was Parkinson’s after all, the first doctor didn’t know what he was talking about. Brad was on meds, and things were improving. A second neurologist had decided that was worth trying, so they were going that route.
Parkinson’s is still an awful disease, but it’s not as bleak a diagnosis as ALS. We didn’t question what we were told. I mean, if you have to choose which illness you’re going to go with, by all means, Parkinson’s is the clear winner. I don’t say that with any sort of smart-alecky attitude – going that route is purely a self-defense mechanism. You don’t want accept the ALS diagnosis so you don’t, or you pretend you don’t. Who would want to, knowing how awful ALS is? So we all buried our heads in the sand, with the ALS in the backs of our minds. It wouldn’t really have made a bit of difference, and if my in-laws took comfort from hearing Parkinson’s instead, we didn’t feel like it was right to argue.
When we saw my in-laws in January, on Saturday the 22nd, things weren’t going great. They weren’t getting a lot of sleep, but they were insistent that things were on an upswing. They’d made some medication changes recently that they attributed the lack of sleep to, and life was getting better. He was even starting to help fold laundry and the like, something he’d not been able to do for months.
My mother-in-law, who retired in 2015 from a forty-plus-year career in healthcare, was acting as Brad’s caregiver. She’s a tremendously strong woman, and even though they could have used help, they were both reluctant. After weighing the options and carefully pushing alternatives that would get her some help with the caregiving, we decided to step back and wait until they were ready. My husband had gently laid out some options, they knew they had help if they needed it, and several people were willing and ready to step up to the plate. But we couldn’t insist beyond some gentle-if-firm recommendations. They were adults, you know? They weren’t ready to let anyone else in.
We had to be satisfied with that. We had a plan in place to help them, and they promised they’d let us know when they needed it. After all, they insisted things were getting better, and we took them at their word. We didn’t have a choice, even though we both knew if they were wrong about him getting better, about the medication changes helping, that something would have to be done and soon.
As it turns out, even as much as we knew, we had no idea how bad things were. That’s something that I think will haunt both of us for a long time. We’re working on letting go of that, but it isn’t easy. It’s going to take time, and for me at least, it’s going to take certain things I can’t find within myself at the moment. I don’t know if I ever can. In the end, that doesn’t matter because what’s done is done. All we can do is go forward.
At eleven thirty on the 23rd, Sunday night, a smidge over twenty-four hours after we were there, the phone rang. You just know when it’s bad news. Maybe it’s some kind of universal attempt to soften the blow. And this news was really, really bad. Brad’s oxygen saturation (meaning how well his body was converting air into life-giving oxygen in the blood) had dropped to critical levels. She’d gotten him in the car, no time to wait for an ambulance given their rural location, and rushed him to the ER. He was crashing by the time they got to the hospital. Within minutes of arriving, he was on a ventilator.
I would like to tell you I held out hope that he would recover, but I didn’t. I knew from that night that there wasn’t any chance of him going home again. By the time we got there, he was having seizures, and he continued having them for several hours. His blood pressure wouldn’t stay up without intervention, and he had pneumonia. They moved him to ICU, kept him on the ventilator, and did everything they could for the next ten days. But when you’re dealing with the monster that is ALS, it isn’t enough. Nothing is enough. The muscles that controlled his breathing were gone. At shortly after two o’clock on February 1st, he was gone.
Brad didn’t want a funeral. He wanted to be cremated, and his ashes are to be spread on the graves of his parents. At some point, the family will come together and have a celebration of his life, a remembrance ceremony of some sort. In a way, that’s easier, because let’s face it, if you have been through the funeral of a close family member or loved one, you know it’s pure hell. In a way too, it isn’t easier on those of us left behind to go that route because funerals do present a form of closure. Neither choice changes the outcome—he’s still gone—and to be honest, at that point, none of us could have withstood the emotional turmoil a funeral would have wrought. Besides that, it would be dishonoring the man to ignore his wishes.
I’ve been through a lot of losses through the years. My parents and sister, the aunt who raised me, my grandparents—losing them all left holes that can never be filled. That sort of grief never goes away, but you instead learn to live with it. This one? I’m still reeling. Maybe it’s because of the “setup” of things. Maybe it’s because one blow after another preceded losing Brad. Maybe it’s because I’ve not been writing, haven’t been able to write, for such a long time. Writing’s my therapy, how I work through things. And for months, I’ve just not had words. This is the longest thing I’ve written in ages. I couldn’t make the words come no matter what.
I hated not being able to say something sooner, but I truly haven’t had the words. We’ve existed in what feels like a vacuum where grief and disbelief are this cotton that separates us from reality. I wanted so very much to be able to say something, to memorialize a very good man—and I say “very good man” with emphasis on “good.” I just couldn’t before now. It hurt too much. I felt like he deserved more than I could say, and at the same time, I wasn’t able to talk about this before now.
There are a lot of bad people in this world. There are even more “only as good as they have to be” people. Bradley Haddix was truly a GOOD man. He did the right thing even when he didn’t have to. He was kind to people even when they weren’t kind to him. He was a good father, a good husband. And maybe “good” is a mild word, but it’s accurate and fitting. It isn’t fancy and elaborate and pompous—and that’s why it fits him so well. One of these days, I’ll do a proper post to remember the man. This isn’t it. This doesn’t come close to being good enough.
I still don’t have the words. This wound was too deep. It’s still too deep but hopefully we’re finally starting to see daylight again. The loss is there, but knowing his suffering is over…. I’ll be honest. That helps a little. Not as much as it might have in the past, though. That he’s gone, it feels senseless and a complete waste of a good man. He was only sixty-one years old. There’s not a blessed thing that could have been done to change any of what happened, and maybe that’s the most senseless thing of all. I don’t think we’ve even begun to grieve yet, but maybe we’re starting to cope some. At this point, I think that’s all we can ask for.