My Stepdad Died

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It’s been a whirlwind year, and a bit of a bumpy one for the old Warckens. Last summer my stepdad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and in the fall Greg and I moved into my Mom’s basement to help them until he died in February. While we were there I took a travel assignment at the hospital where I worked last winter, and Greg went back to work at the Tulsa airport after he was finished harvesting in North Dakota.

I took a second contract while Tom was still alive, and then a third- probably against our best judgment- after he died, at which time we moved out of Mom’s house and back into our travel trailer. After growing up here I swore I would never spend another summer in Oklahoma and here I convinced my northern husband it would be a good idea to do it in a camper. It definitely was financially, but mentally we’re both done. I’ve lost the ability to sleep in the heat of the afternoon, and Greg’s soul melts away like butter over popcorn on the blazing tarmac. We only go outside at night, or when we’ve left the state for respite.

On top of Tom’s cancer diagnosis, a few days before I came to Oklahoma we found out I had my first miscarriage. I hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant, not even Greggles, until the night before we found out it was already over. I was feeling pretty good about the little trump card I was going to play when Mom got too sad about Tom, and was imagining all the ways to break it to her as she’s pressured me for a brown-eyed grandbaby for years. In fact, the day after the first time she met Greg she told me I “owed the world” a baby with my brown eyes and Greg’s dark hair/red beard (she also told me not to “screw this one up” and I’m sure glad I haven’t). I probably wouldn’t have told anyone in my family about the miscarriage except that my body refused to expel the thing, so it turned into a months-long process trying to get it out of me. You can read more about it on my I Had a Miscarriage post, or just use your imagination. The hard part definitely wasn’t the loss, it was the losing, and it was a pretty tough time for me.

The first time I took meds to help the process my husband was 800 miles away, my stepdad was dying upstairs, and I was curled up in a ball in my mom’s basement contracting massive blood clots out of my uterus. Ol’ Deb took good care of me, and wished she could take the contractions away because she’d done it before and knew she could handle it. That was in October and after two more rounds of said meds, I finally had to have a d&c in January to get the rest of it out. What a hassle! I got a little bit sad on my due date, April 8th, when on my way to work I thought my god! I could be having baby today! Then a calm came over me as I realized what I had avoided. It was as though my body had looked ahead and thought “Oh f*** no, we’re not doing this. How about we set this one aside and try again later?” I’ve gotten much better in my old age, but the slightest shift in hormones can turn me into a stark-raving lunatic and there is NO WAY I could’ve gotten through a pregnancy in my mother’s basement while she took care of her husband upstairs. Not one of us would’ve survived it. So… thanks, bod. I’m #forevergrateful. I never saw my pregnancy from Greg’s perspective, I always just thought of it as mine or ours. When we were talking over this past year together, and what we’ve been through, he said “You know, I was a dad for one day, and then I wasn’t.” My heart about broke in two. I was so worried about myself and my body that I never stopped to think about what he was going through. My birth control has been iron clad since the miscarriage, but should we ever try again I have promised to let Greg know if even suspect I might be pregnant. I guess that’s fair.

Wild hormones or no, it’s obviously no fun watching someone die, and it was even less fun watching someone watch someone die. I was glad my mom didn’t have to be alone, but I couldn’t possible relate to what she was going through. My healthy husband slept in my bed and we went on dates and made plans for our future. Mom’s slept in a hospital bed and stopped leaving the house and they discussed hospice plans for his future. When Tom was alive Greg and I felt we had a solid purpose in Oklahoma, and especially in his and my mom’s basement. After he died we both lost that sense of purpose. I quickly realized I’m not one to watch someone mourn, and Greg realized he’s not one to watch me watch someone mourn. I needed my mother to get up and get dressed, I needed her to leave the house, I needed her to remember she had four grandbabies who lived within two miles of her. I needed her to eat right and exercise and get a job and save her money and boy, it sounds like I just wanted her to be a lot more like me. Which is really weird because I despise people trying to tell me how to live my life. Did I just have an epiphany? Did lightning just strike my brain? Staying in her basement wasn’t doing any of us any good, so we made the right decision to get our camper down here and move out before our relationships were forever marred. We were there when we needed to be and we left when it was time.

I’ve learned a lot this year, and feel like I’ve grown and changed more than in all my other years combined. I’ve learned I have to do what’s best for me, regardless of how it’s received by others. But I’m still learning to accept people for who they are, even when I don’t agree with what they’re doing. Everyone has a right to live the way they need to; I just want everyone to be happy and healthy, and financially peaceful. This year has reminded me of the person I was before I was married, and the person I want to be now that I am. It has taught me to take the necessary steps to get back to that person, even when it’s not easy or convenient. I mean, I love sleeping in as much as the next person, but I know I need to get up and do yoga before my twelve hour night shift. I know even when I’m exhausted I need to run three miles after my twelve hour night shift. I know I need to give up twelve hour night shifts. This year has taught me anyone can change, even the most stubborn, seemingly hopeless people can change (present company included). But it’s also taught me to recognize when people aren’t willing to. This year has taught me that whatever it is, just jump in and get through it, because things are never as bad I’ve imagined they will be.

Only death is different, especially in the case of a debilitating illness. I liken it to birth in that you look forward to this enormous event, imagining how much better things will be afterward, but when it actually happens it’s like “Now what the f*** are we supposed to do?” I was, and am, incredibly sad for Tom. He was a strange, cranky old man and I never felt I truly knew him; I’m not sure anyone ever has. I hope he didn’t die with regrets but it’s hard to imagine he didn’t. He didn’t want a funeral, and had hoped to donate his body to science but wasn’t accepted due to his low weight and skin condition at the time of his death. His ashes sit on a bookshelf in my Mom’s living room, with his cremation certificate labeled “Stephen Stanton” even though Stephen is his middle name. I lol’ed just thinking about it. Of all the times to screw up a name. When my chest aches thinking about Tom, I feel better hoping he knows he helped save my life while he was losing his.

I’ve written before about not always having been such a stellar wife, or even girlfriend, to Gregory. After a friend called me out on it last fall I started making a real effort to treat him the way he deserves. I was worried our time in Mom’s basement would be terribly hard on our marriage, but it did nothing but bring us closer together. Mom and Tom were married just shy of 19 years, and Debby will tell you it seems like such a small blip in her life. For me it felt like an eternity watching him die all those months, but looking back it feels like he woke up just yesterday, jaundiced and afraid. Now he’s ashes. Inevitably I imagined my own husband’s death, and imagine it now on a daily basis. Greg thinks this is sick, sad behavior, but I think it’s perfectly normal. I don’t want to look down at my dying husband’s face one day and wonder where all the time went. I don’t want to regret the hard times, or think about the times I could’ve treated him better. Tom’s death taught me to love my own husband, every day, like he won’t be here the next. Little things I would’ve lost my mind over a year ago have become the little things they actually are. If he leaves the toilet seat up I just put it down. If he takes the toilet paper out of the bathroom and leaves it in the kitchen I just drip dry, or ask him to please put it back in the bathroom. My patience has grown exponentially, and my appreciation for this amazing man who chose me to spend the rest of his life with is through the roof. I’m crazy about him, and I will not stop thinking he’ll be killed every day on his way home from work. This is real life, and I’m going to love him real hard. So… thanks, Tom. Wherever you are, I hope it’s the happiest time of your existence.

As for the Warckens, my contract is complete and I’m officially unemployed. We’re leaving tomorrow morning to take the camper to North Dakota and we leave for Greenland and cooler weather in a week. We’ll spend a few weeks watching glaciers calve and hiking across the country, and aside from Greg’s minimal monthly hours we don’t have any work commitments until we get called up to harvest in late September/early October. Greg and I are already enjoying seeing each other on a daily basis and sleeping- at night- in the same bed. Soon, we’ll be venturing outside during the day and will most likely throw in a few Cubs games. Life is great, and short.

I’m just sure this next year will be our best yet.

4 thoughts on “My Stepdad Died

  1. I’m so sad you’re gone and I didn’t even get to say bye! I’m gonna miss you sooo much! You will forever be “my dogg” 💕

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