Part Three: Distress, Peace, and Moving Forward
Our background would have to include the fact that Jeff grew up as a Type 1 diabetic. He was
diagnosed when he was eight years old. That much insulin in one's body destroys the kidneys and of course, the pancreas is already dysfunctional. I'd had no previous exposure to diabetes and being with Jeff was a serious learning curve. Many of you may understand. We were blessed, and forever grateful to the family who donated their daughter's organs when she was killed in a car crash in early 2004. Jeff got her pancreas and one of her kidneys. It changed both our lives.
In 2012, Jeff lost his right leg below the knee to a bone infection. That's a story in itself that I choose not to go into in these pages. Buy me a craft beer or a glass of red and I'll be glad to relate that bit of medical BS to you. Regardless of his affliction, he never viewed it as a disability. He lived his life to the fullest extent as long as he was able. Hindsight, and reading between the lines, which I didn't have the foresight to do at the time, should have revealed his worsening health. In my own defense, however, I had given up on asking him how he was, how he felt, or how his health was. "I'm fine," was always his reply. In other words, "Stop asking."
The beginning of 2018 was not only filled with ShipRocked and other live music. It was also filled with doctor's appointments; at least a couple every week. You see, applying for an organ transplant is not just putting your name on a list. The screenings are exhaustive, from cardiac to cancer, from liver to legs, from cranium to colon, etc. So, in April, when he developed what he described as a "leg cramp that just won't let go" in his remaining calf, we had expectations that at least one of these doctors would be able to find the cause, but none of them did. Some of them sent him for Doppler scans and vascular scans, etc, but some of them, his primary care physician included, looked at his leg, felt the hard knot and didn't refer him to anyone. "I don't know what that is," she said. Yes, I'm bitter. The pain became excruciating but he refused the drugs he was offered. If it had been me, I would've accepted, and though he always had an incredibly high tolerance for pain, this was one that would best him.
The night of July 7th, he had trouble breathing. It got worse through the morning of July 8th until he agreed he needed to go to the hospital. Still, we thought it was a symptom of his failing kidney and once he started dialysis, his blood would be cleaned, and he would feel better. During his hospital stay, the staff coordinated with a dialysis clinic near us, and his breathing was better so he was released and we came home.
We had pinned all our hopes on dialysis. It had worked before, and worked well. The procedure was tiring, but the days after, he always felt better. But this time was different. Following each of the three treatments he received from the clinic, he felt much worse,
The timeline here gets a bit hazy, and that's okay. I don't particularly want to remember every single detail, nor would I expect anyone else to desire those details. Jeff returned to the hospital; I don't even remember that day. By the time the doctors diagnosed his lung cancer, he knew he was near the end. Once word got around, friends came from near and far--literally across the country--and he was surrounded by love as he found peace in the freedom from pain.
No one could understand how in the world Jeff could've gotten lung cancer. He had never smoked anything. But weeks later, during a trip to my dermatologist, it came out that he had spent the first seven years of his career at the Charleston Naval Shipyard, a place wherein every nook and cranny of the grounds and the offices were coated in asbestos. I obtained his records from the hospital and sure enough, buried deep within the jargon, was the diagnosis: mesothelioma.
Jeff didn't want a funeral. We'd talked about it several times over the years. "Just give me a big-ass party and spread my ashes at the [family's] beach house at Folly." That did not make some members of the family very happy, but I was adamant. I knew him better than anyone. I lived with him longer than any of them and I knew what he wanted.
So Jeff got a big-ass party and was celebrated by over a hundred friends and family. It was definitely the send-off he wanted.
I've added these two songs and I hope you'll take the time to listen to them. "Blackbird" by Alter Bridge is almost eight minutes long, but the lyrics are included, as are the lyrics to the 5FDP song, "Brighter Shade of Grey." I wanted the lyric versions of these songs so one might feel the meanings behind them. If you've ever lost a loved one, , ,well, just listen, you'll get it.
So, now you know where I've been all this time. Grieving is hard and I'm still doing it. But I'm slowly coming back around. The secret to our marriage was that he made me laugh every day. Even now, something will happen each day that reminds me of him and I get a laugh. My friends and I seem to channel him all the time. So, until next time . . .