Finding the final resting place

Tuesday

August 23, 2016

Bryon and I were both fans of the show How I Met Your Mother.  Bryon liked to think he was like Barney because they both were full of snarky comments.  I saw him more him in Marshall, the lawyer.  Whenever Marshall would win an argument by logic, he would proudly proclaim, “Lawyered!” I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times Bryon “lawyered” me in an argument, however, I can tell that I have lawyered him twice.  One time may or may not have been an argument about one of our families so I will refrain from discussing that here.  The second time I lawyered him was an argument about cemeteries.

Bryon and I didn’t talk extensively about death.  We spoke about our parents plans for what they wanted to do with their remains.  I asked Bryon what he wanted.  He said to be buried and I was happy because that was what I wanted.  Bryon then said he wanted a huge obelisk monument and a bench and a courtyard for all his mourners.  He also thought it would be cool to buy a huge section of a cemetery so all of his descendants could be buried there.  He was not one to think small.  I told him he better start saving money because cemetery plots are not cheap.

A few years later, we got into a discussion about which cemetery we should be buried in when we die.  You know, decades later after we have lived long and full lives.  Bryon talked about his desire to be buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.  Albany Rural Cemetery is full of history and has many famous politicians buried there, the most notable being President Chester A. Arthur.  I said we need to be buried in a Catholic Cemetery because we are Catholic.  Bryon brought up that his grandparents were buried there and I pointed out that that section of the cemetery seemed to be crowded.  Bryon states that there we available plots in the back of that section, near the woods.  I ended the discussion by stating “Well, I guess whoever dies first loses this argument!”  Bryon just looked at me and I said “You have been lawyered.”  Granted I didn’t necessarily win the argument by logic but I logically ended the argument or at least pushed it to a later time.  I know Bryon would go into a court hoping to get the hearing delayed so therefore I think I can correctly considering this “lawyering.”

My two friends picked me up again the that morning.  We first had a meeting with our Parish Priest in the rectory to discuss the funeral Mass.  I was given a book full of readings to choose from and suggestions of songs, though I already knew what I wanted for music.  

After the meeting at church, we made our way over to Albany Rural Cemetery.  We arrived at the cemetery early so we decided to explore a little bit.  I showed my friends where Bryon’s grandparents were buried.  We drove by President Chester A. Arthur’s grave.  Then we got lost looking for the main office.  We continued to drive around the cemetery until we finally found a sign that directed us to the main office.

We arrived at the main office and met the staff member who would helping us select a plot.  We decided that it would be easiest if he drove around with us.  We drove to the first plot.  I stood on the plot and just tried to see what I felt.  The day before I experienced the most surreal moment of my life while choosing Bryon’s casket but this moment is definitely a close second. The cemetery worker asked me if I wanted to buy this plot.  I was not satisfied. I thought this was supposed to be like House Hunters.  I wanted to know what all our options are before making a choice.  This would be where Bryon would be located forever.  I wanted to make the right choice. I would be purchasing two adjacent plots even though I don’t know what my life is going to bring but I want to make sure I have a place for me next to Bryon should I need it.

I stood at the second plot.  Like the first plot, I stood on the actual plot but it did was not restful. I could hear lots of cars on a nearby freeway.  This was not our plot.

The third plot was off the beaten path in a beautiful, quiet wooded area.  We didn’t even get out of the car.  While Bryon would have appreciated that people had to drive out of the way to see him but he was the social and would want to be where the party was. It would have been perfect for me but it was not the place for Bryon.

We finally arrived at the fourth plot.  It was in a part of the cemetery with a more “populated” location.  I realized that it was the same section that Bryon’s grandparents.  Like Bryon has said in our cemetery argument, there was a row in back right before the woods began that was empty.  I stood on a couple of different plots to get a feeling and then I made my choice.  This was it.

We drove back to the cemetery office to finalize the purchase.  I was given a folder with cemetery information and a list of rules for picking out a headstone.  I asked a few questions.  I handed over my Capital One credit card.  With the swipe of a credit card, I bought my second piece of property and it was not the lakeside cabin I always envisioned.

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My crash course in funeral planning

Monday

August 22, 2016

One thing about growing up Boston-Irish is that you are not a stranger to funeral homes. When I smell an abundant amount of flowers, I think of funeral homes.  My Uncle Peter (my father’s brother) used to refer to the obituaries as the “Irish Sports Pages.”   My father always said that his father, my Grandpa Sullivan, had impressed upon him that when someone dies, you must pay your respects.  Unfortunately through the years my family has lost three grandparents, two uncles (including Uncle Peter) and many great-aunts, uncles and friends.  And each time someone died, you paid your respects by attending the wake and the funeral.

Given our ages, Bryon and I did not discuss funerals in great detail except for a two day period where we attended the funeral of a close friend’s father on one day and the funeral of his best friend’s grandfather on the next day.  Bryon was always a party planner.  When we were planning our wedding Bryon was not the stereotypically passive groom.  He was not only involved in the whole process, but he pretty much organized the whole day.  He asked for my input and what I liked and factored that in. So it didn’t phase me when he started making notes for his funeral.  I told him to write it all down but he never did.  I had to rely on my memory because who plans on dying when they are 30?  

My two friends that were with me the previous day (My daughter’s Godmother and her significant other) picked me up midmorning and the three of us drove to the funeral home.  We were all completely exhausted and still didn’t know what had hit us.  We just knew that we had to plan the best farewell party for Bryon.  A farewell party that would be legendary.

I went into the funeral planning process with four major points: Top Gun had to be playing on loop during the wake, St Francis had to be the featured saint when it came to prayer cards and hymns, his best friend had to say a eulogy and it had to be better than his Best Man speech at our wedding and we had to have an open bar reception after the funeral Mass.

At the funeral home we were greeted by the smell of flowers and the undertaker named Nick.  Over the course of the next couple of days, we would start referring to him as Funeral Nick in our conversations because we kept confusing him with our friend Nick.  Funeral Nick had a last name but I was too exhausted to remember it. (Funeral Nick, if for some reason you are reading this, I hope you aren’t offended.  You did a phenomenal job.) Funeral Nick brought us into a conference room, gave us some bottled water and presented us with a binder that was full of funeral planning options.

Over the next several hours, we discussed many of the funeral details.  We had to decide if we wanted a Thursday wake with a Friday funeral or a Friday wake with a Saturday funeral.  We had many people travelling from out of town, some as far away as Florida and Chicago so we opted for a Friday wake with a Saturday funeral.  We discussed the logistics of transporting his body from New York City back to Albany.   We discussed the transportation to the church, cemetery, and the bar that the reception would be held.  We chose the flowers.  We decided how many pallbearers to have.  We decided that obituary would be published in the local paper, The Times Union and his hometown paper, The Saratogian.  We couldn’t have Top Gun playing and a photo slideshow.  We decided that Top Gun was more important so we decided to have photo boards lining the room.  We picked out the sign in guest book and prayer cards. I poured over the binder, making my choices. I would stop and ask my friends for their input.  The three of us had a good idea on what Bryon would have liked.

Then it was time to pick out the casket. Funeral Nick showed all my options on a projector.  I felt like I had just been kicked in the stomach.  I was picking out the box that was going to hold Bryon’s bodily remains forever.  Bryon’s body was going to go into this box and this box was going to be buried underground forever.  This was and continues to be the most surreal moment of my life.

Bryon’s law partner (and close friend and Godfather to our daughter) showed up at the funeral home and it took the four of us, plus Funeral Nick to write his obituary.  I have spent many times looking at obituaries for my job and as part of my genealogy research.  I knew that these words were to sum up his life.  How we portrayed Bryon in the obituary would be set in stone for the rest of history.  This would be the document that our daughter and her children and grandchildren will read to try to learn about the person Bryon was.  We had the responsibility to choose these words carefully.  We spent at least an hour making sure everything was worded properly and that we include all aspects of his life.  We finally had a piece that we were satisfied with and it was immediately published on the funeral home’s website and sent it to the newspapers.

We left the funeral home in the middle of the afternoon.  We knew we had another important task the next day.  We would be picking out the cemetery plot.

 

The first few hours after

Sunday, August 21, 2016

8:35 am

My husband had just been declared dead.  I quietly sat in a chair on his right while the doctors were finishing up.  Our friend (and Godmother to our daughter and like a sister to me) was sitting on another chair in the corner of the room.  We were told to go to the waiting room so they could clean him up.  We could come back and see him before they take him to the morgue.  My friend and I went out to the waiting room where her significant other was waiting.  We knew we had to let people know about my husband’s death.  My husband worked in politics so my friends made sure that the proper people knew of his death.  I decided to make calls to my family and friends.  I wanted to make sure everyone close to us knew before the news of his death started to appear on Facebook.

My first call was to my father.  It was his birthday.  I had made sure to wish him a happy birthday on his Facebook wall at midnight because I knew my first call of the day to him was going to be telling him that Bryon was dead and I wanted to say happy birthday before he got that news.  I had asked my father to call our relatives so they knew.

I called our close friends.   Every call started the same, almost as if I was a robot.  “Hi, it’s me. I was calling to let you know that Bryon passed away this morning.”  Almost everyone, if not everyone, started to cry or seemed shocked.  Bryon came close to dying many times in those five months but always seemed to bounced back.  I think everyone wanted to believe that he was going to bounce back.  I know I did.  I continued to make each phone call in a robotic manner.

I was surprised at how easy it was to make phone calls but I know now that I was in some form of shock. Before my husband died, I always thought that being in shock was a mental state where one couldn’t function at all and that there was some level of not believing the current situation.  At the time, I did not think I was actually in shock.  I was functioning.  I fully understood that his body just couldn’t take it anymore.  It had been a long five months and I had been staring at all his numbers on the monitor.  I knew from the numbers he had over the previous three days that he wasn’t going to bounce back.  For five months, I knew that this was a possible outcome and I thought I was prepared for it, but you are never truly prepared for it.

After the nurse cleaned him up, I was allowed to go back to his room.  As I walked into his room, I was taken aback at how still and quiet it was.  The beeping machines that had been working and monitoring his vitals had been shut off.  They were no longer needed.  After 5 months, Bryon finally looked like he was at peace.  I sat to the left of him and just looked at him.

My friend and I decided to say a Hail Mary.  We cried through it.  Then the priest came by.  A member of the pastoral care staff had tried to contact him while he was saying morning Mass and the priest scolded me for the interruption.  I remember saying “I am sorry my husband didn’t die at a more convenient time.  I did not know you were saying Mass and I really could do without the attitude right about now.”  I have never snapped at a priest like that before.  Let’s hope my grandmother never finds out that I talked to a priest like that.

Earlier that morning when the nurse sent me out of the room to clean him up, I thought I wouldn’t need to come back. I had just spent the last 3 days sitting in his room as I watched him actively die.  The death felt so final.  I didn’t think I needed any extra time but when I went into the room, I found that I needed to just look at him.  I remember thinking about how I was never going to kiss him again or feel his embrace.  I was never going to hear him tell a funny story.  He had been a person that was so full of life and now he was gone.  I didn’t want to leave him.  The next time I would be seeing him, he would be in a casket.

His nurse was waiting for hospital transportation to come and take him to the morgue.  I began to feel anxious.  What if the transporters don’t arrive?  What if his body gets lost?  I felt like I needed to stay there to make sure he got moved to the morgue.  I had spent the past five months monitoring his care and needs.  Was his test done?  What were the results? Has the specialist seen him?  Did he get his medicine?  Does he want to change the channel on the TV?  For the past five months, I had to have my cell phone fully charged and by my side.  One time I dropped my daughter off at daycare and I had left my phone in car and had a panic attack when I got back to the car and I had realized that I had left my phone there.  What if something happened to Bryon and they were trying to get ahold of me?   I came to the realization that it was just his body. The life was gone from his body and he no longer needed me to monitor every move.  It was time for me to go back to Albany. It was time to go home and see my daughter.  It was time for me to go home and plan his funeral.

As I walked out of the ICU, I stopped by the team of his doctors who were rounding on another patient.  They all stopped when I approached and just looked at me sympathetically.  I thanked them for taking care of my husband and told them that I knew they did everything they could.

It was late morning when I walked out of the hospital like I had every day for the past 5 months.  The only difference was this time I was walking out of the hospital for the last time.  And it was without him.

Missing you a little bit more…

Today America experienced the peaceful exchange of power between two presidents.  It was a day of mixed emotions.  Some Americans were sad to see President Obama’s term come to a close  and are dreading a Donald Trump presidency.  Some Americans were thrilled to see President Obama leave office and are excited to see President Donald Trump take office.  Some Americans didn’t like either of them and are probably sick of all of the Facebook posts.  Most of us probably watched the events on TV while some Americans from all over the country traveled to Washington, D.C. to celebrate or to protest.

This post isn’t meant to incite political feelings.  I almost didn’t write it.  I also thought about writing it and waiting to post it until feelings about the current situation died down.  But the reality is, the pendulum of time and American opinion is always swaying back and forth and this blog isn’t about that.  This is a story about me and my husband.  This is not a political blog.  This is a blog about grief, life, love and resilience.  But politics does play a backdrop in our story so I ask that you put aside partisan politics before reading this.

Bryon and I first met the weekend after the election of 2006 in Louisville, Kentucky.  It was the Fall Board meeting for the Young Republican National Federation (YRNF) and it was during the Northeast Caucus.  I was the lone Maine representative in a room that was predominantly filled with New Yorkers and one New Yorker kept interrupting me when I was giving my report.  The other New Yorkers thought he was hilarious but I thought he was obnoxious and rude.

I went back to Maine and didn’t put any more thought into that rude New Yorker until March 2008.  I was attending a leadership conference in Albany put on by the New York State Young Republicans.  There was one person who seemed to be running all the logistics of the event and I went up and introduced myself to him.  He informed me that we had already met in Louisville.  Then I remembered that he was the one that kept interrupting me.  Luckily for him, I believe in second chances and I gave him the opportunity to redeem himself.

Needless to say that that weekend was the start of a friendship.  A friendship which turned into love soon thereafter.  We did the long distance relationship thing for a year and we both managed our political activities in our home states and with the YRNF.  A year into our relationship, I decided to take a leap of faith and I moved to Albany.  It was one of the scariest things I have ever done.  I never got involved in New York politics.  Partially because it was a whole different animal compared to Maine politics.  I let my fear of not succeeding in a more aggressive political arena keep me from even trying.  The other reason, as Bryon once accused me, was that I had spent years working my way up in Maine politics and I was simply not interested in starting from the bottom again.  He was absolutely correct.  But I also knew it was time to focus on my career, our relationship and eventually, our family.

At home we watched a lot of politics.  We watched all the debates, Republican and Democrat.  We watched Canadian and British elections.  Bryon was always fascinated with the Westminster system of government and I was mesmerized by the BBC infographics.  There even was a period of time that Bryon recorded “The Prime Minister’s Questions” each week off of C-Span.  As the title states, it is where members of Parliament ask the Prime Minister’s questions and if you think we are not civil in the U.S., then you need to watch The Prime Minister’s Questions.

Bryon was fascinated with Canadian politics and admired former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  Somewhere in our house we have a Progressive Conservative Party of  Canada winter hat.  When I was pregnant, we were visiting his parents in Buffalo, NY and we drove to Canada to go to a Canadian maternity store called Thyme.  Our visit was during the Ontario Provincial Elections and commercials about Tim Hudak played on the radio.  Tim Hudak represented the ridings of Niagara South and true to any campaign, some commercials were scathing and others sang his praises.  One commercial sang his praises and then ended with “paid for by Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.”  Bryon and I both immediately said something to the effect of  “Oh, okay, we want Tim Hudak!”

One time Bryon asked me if I thought he should run for president.  I said no.  It was not the answer he was expecting.  He expected me to tell him he was smart and that he would make a great president.  He asked me why.  I immediately told him it that he couldn’t run for president even if he wanted to because he was not 35 years old.  Bryon breaks out in a huge smile and says he loves me so much and he loved that that was how I answered his question.

Bryon and I had one of those relationships where we would talk about everything from religion and politics to trivial matters like cat videos and our bodily functions. (Sorry but it’s true.)  Even though we were both Republicans when we started dating, we disagreed on many issues.  Over the years, we seemed to disagree less.  I like to think it was from all our conversations with each other.  I know he expanded my mind and turned me into more of a critical thinker.  Maybe I had some effect on him too.

As the 2016 Presidential Election got underway, we were critical of Donald Trump.  We both liked Marco Rubio.  We both has a soft spot for “Jeb!”  We watched every debate, except the one that played on the last night of our cruise.  One night I was at the gym when one of the debates began and Bryon had recorded it on DVR and replayed the highlights when I got home.

Then Bryon got sick and was fighting for his life.  The same election I was obsessed with no longer mattered.  I remember sitting in the ICU waiting room and watching the news and it was just so foreign and removed to me.  It was hard to believe that just weeks before, I was so emotionally invested in this election and now it seemed so trivial.  I didn’t care who was running this country as long as I had Bryon with me.  Because at the end of the day, the most important thing is my family.

My first election day after his death was much more difficult than I had anticipated.  I was lost as to who to vote for.  I did not have Bryon to discuss all the options.  Ironically, I usually never saw him on election days because he was working.  Usually he came home around 3 am.  When I went to bed that night, I was half-expecting to be woken up by him at 3 am and hear all about election night. But I was only woken up by the TV that I had left on.

I thought I was indifferent about the Inauguration but this morning I was thinking that while we were not fans of President Trump, we most likely would have been in D.C. today.  We would have been visiting with old friends from our YRNF days.  We might even have been crazy enough to take our 2-year-old daughter because we took her everywhere with us and we would want her to witness history.  Bryon would have been scheming of a way for him to have his picture taken with Joe Biden because, despite partisan politics, he loved Joe Biden.

I will probably always miss him more on political days.  My life will never be the same.  Bryon is gone. This is my new reality.  It’s just me and our daughter.  Bryon was not one to sit and watch life pass.  The best I can do is try to take my daughter on as many adventures and try to teach her to live life to the fullest just like her father taught me how to do.

The Beginning

You could say that my story began on August 30, 1978 at 7:55 am at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston because that is when I entered this world.  It was the beginning of my childhood in the Boston area with my Irish-Catholic family.  My childhood was pretty ordinary, filled with bike rides, Barbies and games of tag and hide and go seek.  I had a strong sense of where I came from.  I was fortunate enough to know all four of my grandparents.  I also grew up around many aunts, uncles and cousins.  It was in my childhood that I developed my love for dogs, history, the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots, hoodsies and fried clams.  I also developed a Boston accent that still manages to slip out when I am emotional or have been drinking.

You could say that my story really began early morning on July 3, 1993 when my family drove away from my grandmother’s house in Massachusetts. We were setting off for our new life in Maine.  This was the summer before my freshman year in high school and I was excited to be starting high school in a new place. My high school memories were filled with cross country and track practices, cashiering at the local Shop ‘n Save, social studies and French class, walks by the ocean and driving my hand-me-down ‘87 Ford Escort around town because there was nothing else to do.   During my high school years, I found small town life to be suffocating and I longed to see the world.  I would later become a “boomerang kid” and return in my twenties where I learned that it’s actually not so bad to be from a small town.

You could say that my story really began on August 30, 1997 which was my nineteenth birthday.  My father and I left our home in Surry, Maine and I was about to embark on my four year journey at the University of Southern Maine.  I was tired that morning because I had spent the night before with my high school best friend Darcy at the Blue Hill Fair.  I was excited to be leaving home for the first time.  I also was embarrassed because my father told everyone, from the waitress at the Augusta Friendly’s to the USM volunteers directing traffic that they were making me start college on my birthday.  My college years were filled with history classes, cross country and track practices, midnight trips to L.L.Bean (when we were under 21) and trips to the bars in the Old Port in Portland (once we were legal).  It was also during my college years that I did a semester in Winchester, U.K.

You could say my story began on July 5, 2005 at around 5:00 am when I was boarding a plane from Bangor International Airport to Las Vegas for the 2005 Young Republican National Convention.  This organization would play a big role in my life for the next 5 years and I would even hold an officer title.  I got to see many places in the U.S. that I had never been such as Nashville, Denver, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Little Rock and Miami.  I got to meet many important political figures.  Politics helped me grow as a person because had been a relatively quiet and shy person and politics helped me develop my social skills.  My years in this organization gave me one of the biggest gifts of all- friendships and love.

You could say that my story began during the late afternoon of August 1, 2008 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. That is when the greatest love story of my life began. I knew I really liked this guy and he seemed to really like me.   It was our first date only we didn’t really know it when it started.  What started as an outing between friends evolved into a date as the night went on.  It was on this day that we held hands for the first time and that we had our first kiss.  I was doubtful that it would ever work out but I decided to do something that I never do, which was to let my guard down.  Despite living seven hours apart and an age difference I don’t care to mention, our love only seemed to blossom.  There were lots of weekend trips and lots of tanks of gas charged to my VISA card.   I drank a lot of  5 hour energy shots and I could recognize all the people who worked at the rest stops on Mass Pike.  364 days later I moved to Albany.  

You could say that our story began on September 29, 2012 at 1:30pm at Blessed Sacrament Church in Albany, NY.  Our fairytale was going to officially begin.  I was so excited that I had to tell myself to breathe and my knees were shaking.  I was in my princess dress and he wore a kilt.  Of course, we learned that marriage wasn’t always easy but we were best friends and soul mates.  We weathered the low of a miscarriage and the high of the birth of our daughter.  We bought a house and a family car.  We went on five cruises and explored many Caribbean islands. We both had some success in our careers (he more than me.)  We had many friends and an active social life.  We had so many plans.  Our life was good.

But this story doesn’t begin on any of those days.  This story begins on a Sunday morning, August 21, 2016 in the Medical ICU at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center at 8:35 am.  I was exhausted.  I hadn’t slept in 30 hours and I hadn’t showered for 3 or 4 days because I was too afraid to leave the unit.  One of our best friends had stayed up with me all night. After a 5 month battle with surgical complications from a surgery performed at another hospital the doctors had just declared my husband clinically dead.

I was heartbroken and numb.  Our fairy tale was over.  I had tried to do everything I could to save him.  He fought until the bitter end.  My only relief was that he wasn’t in pain anymore.  It just wasn’t meant to be.  Our fairy tale ended too soon.  I didn’t know how I was going to do this without him.  How was I supposed to carry on and live my life without my best friend? A part of me died with him that morning.  This is the story of the part of me that is still living.