Pictures…of a life lived

Hearts are resilient muscles: they beat fast and slow; they stop and can be restarted; and they heal. There is room for both the lost and the living within them.

It was 7:15 p.m. when I decided to go through the laundry room cabinets.

Things I don’t use tend to get stored there because I don’t have enough cabinets in my kitchen and feel guilty when I throw stuff away. Plus, if I store items here, I probably won’t see or think of them ever again. And I’m short, so I can’t reach anything in there anyway…which makes it the perfect location for useless crap.

While I was there, I decided to tidy up the cabinets, and found old picture hanging kits. I don’t use these things. Most of the time I use Command Strips so I don’t wreck my rented walls, but also because I should never have a hammer in my hand because frankly….smashing shit feels great!

I wasn’t built to build things. I’m good at destroying things, but building and crafting furniture was Mark’s thing, and he did so with much precision and care. I don’t know how many tools he had in his shed, now the property of his nephew. Once Mark’s disease got really bad he couldn’t work with his hands anymore. When I say “really bad,” I am referencing a naive time in my life when I had no idea how “really bad” things would actually become.

When Mark moved in, he brought a bunch of hand tools with him, but all his “big” tools and woodworking stuff stayed in his shed, where it has likely gone untouched since 2017. I hope not though. Mark’s nephew owns that house now — and I hope he’s using those tools to make his house everything he wants it to be. Plus, it continues Mark’s legacy of building things to be better.

That realization filled me with sadness, because newly discovered momentos, forgotten memories, or unseen pictures are the miraculous reminders that Mark was alive.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

I drive by that house every now and again, and I’m reminded of the parts of Mark’s life he left behind when he moved in. The fire bowl we’d enjoy on cool fall nights. The saws, sanders, and “man tools” because his hands and body had already begun to fail him. The many pictures in his attic he would have used those picture hanging kits for to mount pictures to walls “the right way.”

While holding these kits in my hand, I thought about the memories Mark never had the chance to share. All the memories I’ll never know because the attic pictures never made it to our house and my relationship with his family is so deeply severed it cannot be repaired. Those memoirs are gone forever — a realization that fills me with sadness because newly discovered momentos, forgotten memories, or unseen pictures are important reminders that Mark was alive.

I take pictures. (Okay, I take a lot of pictures.) Partly because I like to see myself on film and because pictures are tangible trinkets that transport me to another lifetime; a lifetime where Mark was alive and things were “normal.” A time when I was blissfully unaware of the emotional and physical chaos that would eventually infiltrate my life. My heart swells with those memories and I feel deep gratitude for them. I reminisce his time here and wish I had just one more moment with him.

But while the human brain is amazing, it can’t consciously remember everything, so it’s my crazy belief that photos help to unlock metaphorical doors our brains have created to catalog the wealth of memories and experiences we have over our lifetimes. So take the damn picture, okay? You’ll thank me later.

But then I think of conversations I’ve had with others, including men I’m interested in, and feedback from friends about just how present Mark is on our home’s walls. And they’re right…he is. We definitely made a lot of memories together. The large portrait of our family at our wedding, his Schmorrow Strides banners, the framed photo collage I made from photos I found in his safe after he died. You know, the little miracles I mentioned earlier.

He is very visible in our home, but...he was my husband. He is also present alongside the photos of my dead grandfather, grandmother, pets, friends, and many others I have lost along the way. These people influenced myself and my children in so many positive and beautiful ways. They helped shape me into the spectacular gal I am, which helped me raise my children as the awesome beings they are. They are more than deserving of such prominent wall space.

Hearts are resilient muscles: they beat both fast and slow, they stop and can be restarted, and they heal after they’ve been damaged. There is room to love both the lost and the living within them.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

But allow me to say this to anyone considering dating, committing to or marrying a widowed person: you should not ever feel or believe that you are competing with their lost person, or with their memory. You are not, and you will never be. You are the wonderful person you are and that we truly believe you to be.

We will get lost in our thoughts and mourn the person we lost, but I promise those moments pass, and we come back to this lifetime with you, as present as we ever were. Our hearts are fantastic and resilient muscles: they beat both fast and slow, they stop and can be restarted, and they heal after they’ve been damaged. They is room for loving both the lost and living within them.

Still, the picture hanging kits haunt me, because not only will I never use them, I will never make a new memory with Mark again. Because of that, I treasure those that hang on my walls as they are both the proof that he lived and the reminder he is gone. Yes, those we’ve lost have leave their marks on our hearts, but it’s okay if they leave their mark on our walls too.

In Support,
Laurie

The Predictability of the Unpredictable

The only predictable factor in life is that life is unpredictable.

The thing about grief, and perhaps its blessing — if there ever was one — is how predictably unpredictable grief can be. The waves can happen at the most inopportune times, under the weirdest circumstances, (terrified on the operating table as I went in for emergency surgery) and in the strangest places (in the restroom at the bank.)

A lot has happened since the last time I posted. (Sorry, I’m sure I was missed, but life happens, right?) Following my last post, I was actively interviewing for communications roles at several companies, and took a position managing communications at a private high school.

The irony of finding and being offered this position is that it’s always been my personal mission in life to do things and act in ways that help me become a better version of myself. Mark knew this too, and sometimes I feel like I was meant to find this role and Mark helped me do so. Not only do I continue to evolve as a person, doing what I love, but I get to help others evolve into their best selves too. The irony, right…dare I say life is good?

For me, the deep grief hit later and continues to stalk me, in each moment I want to share with him, and in the moments I need him — both good times and bad.

I draw the line at saying that…because the guilt I feel because I’m still here is very real. I know moving forward and living my life is what I am supposed to do, but there are times I can’t help but feel I’m dishonoring my husband because I feel happiness. All normal. I know that, too.

Because I’m starting to feel happiness doesn’t mean I don’t have grief waves, though — I do. But now when I have them, they tend to be longer, deeper, and involve more introspection. You’d think they would be less intense over time, but it’s the opposite. When I think about the good that is happening in my life, I can’t share it with the one person I want to share it with, and that saddens me.

And that’s the “real” grief, in my opinion…all those experiences and moments you’re robbed of having. You’re not going to feel it in that first few days, weeks, or even months. For me, it’s not physically losing Mark, because that part of my mind adjusted to his loss pretty quickly, probably because his mind failed him long before he passed, and in many ways, I felt he was already gone. For me, the deep grief hit later and continues to stalk me, in each moment I want to share with him, and in the moments I need him — both good times and bad.

Not long after I landed my position, I got ill…really ill. In early October (another reason I’ve been “grief MIA”) my oldest son and I took the cruise to the Bahamas that Mark and I were supposed to take for what would have been his 45th birthday. I had been having some cramping, which was irritating and interfered with walking more than 3 miles a day (you walk a lot on cruises.) Despite not sleeping well, and receiving a multi-thousand dollar casino surprise win on Mark’s birthday (no joke!) I wasn’t myself. When we got home, it escalated very quickly and needed an ambulance ride to the ER.

I hate the ER…and hospitals in general. After spending weeks-long visits with Mark in ERs, Cardiac Floors, Care Floors, Rehab Centers, I have grown to fucking hate hospitals and it’s the last place on Earth I want to be. And before you say “Everyone hates hospitals,” just know, not everyone does. I know a few people who would move in if they could. Whatever. I was diagnosed with a severely inflamed Appendix and Tubo-Ovarian Abscess that had been infected for some time. After being rushed to another hospital, I needed an emergency Appendectomy and possible Hysterectomy, and after being told it was a risky surgery, I lost my mind on the way into the OR.

When Mark passed, I remember saying I didn’t care what happened to me. And I didn’t. I wasn’t suicidal, but, when you’re grieving, your mind is empty. You’re not processing anything the way you should be. I was so distraught that I had NO control over Mark’s death (no matter what I did to take the best care of him I could) that I finally had to admit to myself I don’t have control over anything. Relinquishing control has never been easy for me, and realizing I only have perceived control over anything has actually been a crucial life lesson.

It took being on that table at midnight worrying if my kids might become motherless for reality to finally hit me. I still wanted to live. I recall telling the kindest nurse ever (a man, by the way) that my husband had died just three months before and I used to say I didn’t care what happened to me, but now I do. I remember him rubbing my cheek sweetly before the sedative kicked in and telling me I’d wake up soon because I was in good hands.

It was an eye-opening experience. In the days after my surgery, I realized my worth again and the very delicate nature of my life.

The next morning I woke up in a private room. The nurse wasn’t there, but he came by my room that evening to tell me “I told ya so!” I also learned how lucky I was for them to have operated when they did. Had my appendix ruptured, because it was so close to my infected tube and ovary, it all would have done some sort of collective inner BOOM and likely would have resulted in Septic Shock, the same thing that killed Mark. Irony, right?

Because my reproductive system was feeling murderous, I was hospitalized for a week and out of work for three. I wasn’t about to let it try to kill me again, so I’ve made a lot of changes to improve my health. I’ve still got 60 pounds to lose and need to have a partial hysterectomy as soon as I can. That way, my womanly parts can’t exercise their rage again.

It was an eye-opening experience. In the days after my surgery, I realized my worth again and the very delicate nature of my life. My husband would not want me to “just exist,” which is what I was doing for the first several months after he died. In fact, he told me he wanted me to live hard and to love even harder: myself, my family, and one day another man. We had many blessings together before he died, including him having the mental capacity to tell me he wanted me to move forward after he was gone.

It’s still hard telling people I’ve been widowed. I still receive shocked glances and “but you’re so young!” responses. For some reason, young widowhood is an interesting phenomenon, which is odd because so many young people are dying from debilitating diseases. I’ve also started very casually dating again, and am learning to appreciate the crazy things and learning opportunities that come with it. I’ve been cat-fished, stood-up and lied to. Gotta laugh, right?

This time around in the romance department, I better understand the lack of control I have over the outcomes. They are either going to like me or they aren’t. They can either accept I’m a widow, or they can’t. I refuse to invest my time in men who cannot recognize my worth and that Mark’s death does not define me. I am a caring, attractive and independent gal with boatloads of awesome to offer. After the hell I’ve been through though, I plan to enjoy my dates and learn all the lessons I’m supposed to.

Life is unpredictable — as is every moment in it. Every choice we make has an outcome. So let it happen. Experience the pain. Dance in your kitchen. Take the help. Get angry. Walk in the rain. Smoke the joint (it’s legal in MA!) Learn lessons. Fall in love. Choose kindness. Forgive often. Sleep on the beach. Lose the weight. Laugh until your stomach hurts. Take the leap. Be brave. Enjoy the sex. Sing loudly. Appreciate new perspectives. Travel the world. Read that novel. Better yet, write your own novel. Don’t look back. Kiss your crush. Eat the ice cream. Believe in and challenge yourself. Climb the mountain. Take risks.

Just do it all… because we’re always a heartbeat away from having no heartbeat at all.

With love,
L

The Reality of Death

Even “expected” death is not the peaceful, quiet situation we often envision.

I get it, universe. Really. My person is gone.

I know “life goes on,” and I must continue on to accomplish the daily tasks I have come to know as “structure.” And to those who like to remind me that life goes on…I GET IT. And my response to you is: reminders aren’t helpful. Motivation is, but motivation goes out the window when you’re grieving. So does structure in the beginning, but that’s a blog post for another day.

When Mark first left me, I was completely distraught from watching him die. It wasn’t the peaceful, quiet situation we had envisioned after becoming hospice patients. In fact, it was the complete opposite. I’ve mentioned a few times to my family that I might also be experiencing feelings of trauma in addition to my grief, but I’m not a therapist. It’s not like we’re always present to witness deaths of our loved ones, so there’s bound to be confusion.

It took me some time to realize that I was trying to control an outcome I was powerless to control: Mark’s death.

But it was my first experience watching someone I loved so very deeply die. I mean, have you watched someone die? Do you know the internal terror and guilt it causes when it’s not peaceful, or when you can’t stop pain? If not, I’m glad. Feeling powerless in a situation you can’t control will drive anyone bonkers, but when you add in a 104 fever, seizures and the dreaded “death rattle,” you’re bound to have some serious emotional baggage.

I have too often wondered if I “did enough” for Mark during his last couple days. I applied the cold compresses, gave comfort medications and said no to sleep so I could hear every sound he made, determined not to miss his passing. When we got this shitty news, I promised I would be there until the very end, and I absolutely meant it.

I climbed into the hospital bed with him on his last night on Earth and carefully listened to his heart beat. I read to him and talked about our first date. I reflected on our first tiff — which was on our second date. I spoke of the first time he professed his love to me, and the night he proposed. That night was hilarious: he took me to view Christmas lights, and naturally decided to pop the question in front of the darkest house on the street.

I recall quietly weeping around 3 a.m. as I wiped his very hot skin with cool-watered cloths. I listened to his fast breathing and tried to soothe him, like I would have if I was soothing an infant. I played music he liked and thought quietly about our first dance as husband and wife, less than two years ago.

I thought of all the trips we would not take together now. I did my best to wipe the tears and ignore his hiccups and the repeated jerking motions he made while I tried to stimulate a suck of water through water sponges. I did way too many vitals checks which accomplished absolutely nothing other than make me totally bananas. I covered and uncovered his body. I wiped his forehead. I Googled “How to make a dying person comfortable.”

Mark, 10 p.m., June 17

Finally, around 4:30 a.m., when he started breathing very deeply, I noticed dark brown urine in his bag, It was then I stopped trying to help. At that moment, I realized the measures I was taking weren’t doing anything other than keeping me focused on time left, rather than acknowledging and accepting my husband was dying.

I called the Hospice nurse to talk to her about his 103 temperature, knowing I couldn’t stop what was coming. It took me some time to realize I was trying to control an outcome I was powerless to control: Mark’s death. After that, I found myself administering Morphine, Haldol gel and Ativan, which would quickly limit the rest of his life. In that moment, I felt horrible, as I was the one that had to give the life-ending medicines to the man who captured and loved my heart so beautifully.

If Mark knew his time was short, he never told me. He left me blissfully unaware.

When our nurse confirmed Mark was dying, I didn’t want to believe her. I acknowledged it, and knew she’d seen a lot of death in her day, but I also knew Mark was a fighter. Denial is an ugly thing. When his heart rate finally reached 175 BPM, (above exercise rates) and a “Nut-uh” followed every exhale, I realized he was somewhere else, talking to someone else, and I knew he was nearly done fighting.

It was around that time Chaplain Chris from Hospice arrived to talk to me. We said the Lord’s Prayer, spoke of the sudden turn of events, and he quickly arranged for Father Tom to come give Mark his last rights. His last rights. He was 44.

While Mark never actively practiced religion, I recently found a necklace with a gold cross that I had never seen him wear. I also noted it in his senior pictures, and have been wearing it non-stop since his death. That said, he never attended church and did not live an overly religious life. But he expressed interest in returning to church in his last couple months, so we were relieved we could have some religion-based services provided to us at home through the hospice agency. If Mark knew his time was short, he never told me. He left me blissfully unaware. While I knew he probably wasn’t going to be around in his 50s, I didn’t expect him to leave us so soon.

I remember my mind filled with hope of a divine miracle, but that was not to be the case. His miracle was reserved for another soul.

Laurie Moon-Schmorrow

After Father Tom anointed Mark, there was a fast change in his status. He had been doing this weird hiccup thing that caused his body to jerk, but otherwise he looked unbothered by it. That stopped almost immediately after anointment, and Mark widely opened his eyes, looking quickly at all of us but not having a clue where he was. I thought he was awake and maybe the anointment helped. I remember my mind filled with hope of a divine miracle.

But this was not to be the case. His miracle was reserved for another soul. Shortly after he opened his eyes, his head began to writhe back and forth uncontrollably, and he began to groan deeply, looking at us (or so we thought) with glassed-over, wide-open, blue eyes. He looked possessed, if I’m totally honest. I was horrified, and that’s when that awful death rattle sound began, and my hopes quickly turned to dread.

I knew what that sound meant, and so did Hershey. He found his way onto the couch and immediately lunged towards Mark, licking and smelling his face, trying to get onto the bed. My daughter helped him on and he laid there on Mark’s lap until he passed. Alex and Josh were off to Mark’s right holding his hand, and I was on his left, wetting his forehead. Poor Kassidy was making all kinds of phone calls, the poor kid. She is his niece by marriage, but he loved her as blood. He loved them all as his.

Mark turned his head toward me a few moments later with half-opened, glassed-over eyes…and I told him to go.

The priest stepped back as we sprung into action, mouthing to me “It won’t be long now.” Kassidy contacted the hospice agency as I thought Mark was having seizures. They provided me with medicinal advice and I was able to administer two medications, after which Mark suddenly said, “Nuh-Uh” and turned his face away from me. I don’t know who he was talking to, whether me or someone else, (somewhere else) but it was clear as day. I looked at the priest, and he returned my glance, slowly shaking his head “no” to me.

I told Mark “Okay honey…I hear you,” and I said I wouldn’t give him anymore meds, but he should not suffer like this. Mark turned his head back to me a few moments later with half-opened, glassed-over eyes, and I told him to go. I told him I knew he doesn’t want to leave us, but we’ll be okay and he doesn’t have to fight anymore. We continued to express our love for him and I told him if he was waiting for the boys (his nephews) to visit, and he was in too much pain to wait, that he could go, and I would look after them.

Just after I told him this, his face and body began to relax. His eyes closed slightly and I leaned over and kissed his lips one last time while I knew there was still life in them. “I’ll love you forever,” I said. It was only a moment or so later his breathing slowed, and I noticed his chest fill high with air. He held it there for a moment and then he was gone.

Alex and Mark, just after Mark passed.

I have been hesitant to share these pictures because some may find them offensive, but I don’t care. This is our reality every day. We were there for the tough parts, and the photos of Mark taken before and after his death are equally as important to us.

We lived and witnessed his struggles in life and were there when he moved from this life to whatever came next. These memoirs were our reality and are reflective of life’s most mysterious transition. I like to think he’s running around on both of his too-skinny legs with Pablo at his heels in Heaven, surrounded by never-ending buckets of ice cream and an always-stocked bar with Rum and Coke.

In this life, he was my husband, my best friend, a terrific father to my children and a wonderful person worthy of the deep love that he gave to everyone else. I will always be grateful for the time we had with him and for the love we shared. Even in death, this is what love looks like.

June 19, 2019 at Mark’s private viewing.

For now,
Lau