RANDOMNESS: Pointing Fingers and Greater Understanding

There are times I let my mind to go a bad place in which I want to question people for not seeing what was happening with Mike, and for not stopping it.

Like his parents. I never had a good relationship with them. And neither did Mike. But that’s where he lived for the last five months of his life. (To the end, Mike never let me forget that he hated it there. He blamed me for “making” him stay with his parents. I told him to get a job and then he could live anywhere he wanted. That message was NEVER well-received.)

How could they have missed the signs of liver failure? From what I heard from the coroner’s office, he was pretty yellow.

How could they have overlooked the seriousness of his lack of muscle tone? From their own accounts, Mike was extremely weak in his last week. He couldn’t walk from the bedroom to the bathroom by himself – rooms that were right next to one another in their small house.

How could they have missed the severity of the flu-like symptoms, also self-reported by his parents?

His mom told me that she wanted to take him to the hospital, but that he didn’t want to go. She told me, “As a mom, you know that if you’re child doesn’t want to do something, you can’t force them?”

Excuse me? Isn’t that the JOB of a mom? To act in her child’s best interest, regardless of if they’re 4 years old or 38 years old? If things were that bad, why didn’t she call an ambulance?

I wonder how I will explain someday to Ethan and Lauren that these very obvious signs were grossly overlooked by two capable grown-ups who should have known better and should have taken action.


When I start going down the finger-pointing-path, I realize that if I question others, I also have to examine my own actions.

I discovered the severity of Mike’s drinking when I was on maternity leave with Lauren. Until that time, I knew he drank – he always drank. Drinking wasn’t the issue – a beer after work, a martini or two on the weekends. When I look back, I really didn’t know what was happening in my own house.

Was it because I was working so much? I held a senior leadership position and put in very long hours, especially after Mike lost his job in December 2009 and before I was going on maternity leave. If I didn’t work 60+ hours a week, would I have seen the signs?

Why didn’t I question why we were getting so many calls from 800-numbers? I didn’t know until maternity leave that these calls on my caller ID were from creditors, most of whom hadn’t been paid in two, three, four months. Still, I looked at the ID and rarely questioned why . (The cordless phone was almost always dead or hidden from me, so I didn’t retrieve the messages.)

Why didn’t I push harder for why he was spending so much time in the basement? He said he was having trouble sleeping, so he wanted to sleep on the couch down there so he didn’t disturb me. He very rarely came upstairs to bed in the last few years, maybe once every three weeks or so. I asked him about it, but he held onto his sleep story.

I look back at the photos from these last few years – the few there are of him, since he was rarely with us – and the look in his eyes is distant, funny, out-of-it. You can tell by his eyes – the expression, the amount they’re open or closed, the lack of spark – that he’s drunk. Why didn’t I ask more questions?

Mike was very, very good at lying and hiding what was going on. He was also very clear on what he wanted: “I want to drink. I’m going to drink. You can’t tell me what to do.” I heard him say this at least 500 times in the last year of his life.


I’ve learned a lot in the past few years: I can’t control others. I can’t change them. People who don’t want to change, aren’t going to change. There isn’t enough guilt, screaming, uber-niceness, threats, overly accommodating, or anger to make someone do something they don’t want to do.

And I’ve also learned to be less judgmental of others. When Ethan acts up because he’s having a rough day missing his dad, and the other moms and kids are looking at us critically, I realize that they don’t know what we’re going through – this little kid has no dad, and sometimes that confusion and anger and frustration are going to come out in inappropriate ways, and I might turn the other way, knowing that he’s having a tough time, and let him get away with behavior that I would normally not tolerate. In turn, I don’t realize what other moms are going through when they’re in similar situations.

Understanding has been one of the best things to come out of this.

UPDATED: Certificates Make It Official – Maybe

I have a certificate for giving blood on September 11, 2001. I have a certificate for participating in a former employer’s management training program. I have a certificate for participating in a financial literacy class. Hell, Ethan came home today with a certificate for sitting through a few months of Junior Achievement. Certificates – they hand them out like nothing…

And now, I have another certificate. This one says that Mike is dead.

Side note: I had to sign for the death certificates. Weird that my signature was required for a few pieces of paper, but his cremains – well…whatever

Thank God I took Greek and Latin etymology in high school. I challenged myself to break each of the causes (one primary and three secondary causes) into their root parts to decipher the meanings. Hepa = liver. Cardio = heart. Mega = large. Myo = muscle. Pathy = disease. Bili = bile.

I wanted to figure out the meaning of each of the words myself. It stretched my brain to recall information from 20 years ago. It prolonged the reality of KNOWING.  

Then I looked up the definition of the super-long, jargony causes of death, just to be sure. Bottom line: liver failure – 2 and super-duper weak heart – 2. All four causes were due to alcoholism.

Side note: Wouldn’t it be nice if the medical examiner could use “real people” words instead of a bunch of 18 letter dealios? Seriously, thank God for the Internet, but real words would have been better.

I spent a few hours wondering how long the drinking had been going on. And how I could have not seen it. I knew he was an alcoholic for a year before our separation, and I suspected the hard-core drinking might have started another six months or so before that. But now, I’m thinking, no I know, that it was going on a lot longer than that. Bottom line: he lied to me for the last two years of our marriage, then he died, so I’ll never know when or how or for how long or why…

Then I noticed the small, fine print at the bottom of the certificate. Line 28A (cause of death) and line 33 (manner of death, i.e., natural, accident, suicide, etc) were noted as “Pending Investigation.”

Investigation of what? Is there another cause of death for “alcoholic steatohepatitis”? You know, other than the alcoholism part that caused the steatohepatitis?

Of course, the ME inFt.Wayneworks, like, five hours a day, so I have to wait until (late) morning to call and ask what “pending investigation” means. And when the “pending investigation” will be closed and resolved. And if, when it’s closed, if I have to get more death certificates (because Hot Diggity, these things are ridiculously expensive)…

Damn, nothing can be just cut and dry, easy breezy.

Side note: Sorry for all the side notes. It’s a side note kind of night.

UPDATED: I just talked to the funeral home about the “Pending Investigation” on the death certificates. Per Indiana law, every change to a death certificate needs to include what was previously listed in a little bitty section at the bottom of the document. In this case, the coroner released the body to the cremation people (since the cause of death was pretty apparent by the condition of his liver), but since toxicology results weren’t in, the cause was listed as “Pending Investigation” on the death certificate (which had to be filed so the body could be cremated). Once toxicology results were back from the lab, the official cause of death changed – but “Pending Investigation” will always be part of the document since it was on the original version. Whew!

Faucet Tears at the Auction Fundraiser

Saturday night was the annual auction/fundraiser for Ethan’s school. I thought it would be a good chance to meet other parents and to personally thank those who have sent prayers, notes, dinners, toys, and general good thoughts our way since Mike died.

I also knew there was a good chance that I would chicken out and not to go.

I’m not a fan of these kind of events. – unless, of course, I know I’ll be able to snark with someone. For all his shortcomings, Mike was my go-to snarker at this kind of things. We could stand in a corner (drinks in hand, natch) and comment on anything. We didn’t have to mingle or talk to anyone, just “be.”

But, Saturday night, I was flying solo. Knowing that I would invent a million and one reasons to stay home that night, I emailed the committee and volunteered a few days before. At least this way, I rationalized, I was less likely to wimp out. Besides, I didn’t RSVP for the dinner, so I could go, work my shift at the registration desk, and come home.

Saturday night, I put on a sequin top, nice pants, and heels, and I drove to the hotel. Or, the hotel I THOUGHT was hosting the event. As soon as I got close to it, I didn’t think there were enough cars in the lot. Maybe the lot extends behind the hotel, I thought. It didn’t.

I almost turned the car around, but “I volunteered!” so I was determined to try to find the venue. I took out my iPhone and typed in the URL for the school’s website. Surely the address for the hotel would be on there.

It wasn’t. The name of the chain was listed, but no address. A quick Internet search, and voila!, only five of the hotels in the city. I decided I’d try the one closest to where I was, and if that wasn’t it, then I’d be able to go home. I tried, right?

I made it. Right hotel. Just on time.

I found the registration desk and slipped behind it, introducing myself to the woman who appeared to be in charge. Quickly, I was on a roll. Meeting and greeting. Welcoming and registering. And I was really enjoying the company of the four women working alongside me.

There was a lull in the activity, and we all started talking. “So, is your husband at home with the kids tonight?” one of them asked me.

Tears. Great big tears. Out of no where and uncontrollable.

“No,” I said. “He died in January…”

I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t a full-blown sob, but more of a “running facet” kind of cry. Tears wouldn’t stop flowing, no matter how hard I tried to turn them off. Soon all four of the ladies were hugging me, slipping me their phone numbers, and trying to get me to stop crying. I was a mess.

Still, after that breakdown and working my registration shift, I wasn’t ready to go home. I hadn’t registered for the event/dinner so I decided I would just work the rest of the event. Schlepping silent auction items to the back tables to be picked up later. Directing drunken partygoers to the nearest bathrooms. Counting money. Alphabetizing kids’ photos. Organizing wine bottles. Helping drunken partygoers check out and collect their stuff (most of which they would probably regret buying in the morning, but hey! it’s a good cause, right?).

I met some great moms. Most of the mom volunteers were divorced or separated. (Apparently, if you have a snark partner, you attend the event. If you don’t, you work the event.) Some knew of my situation, but most didn’t. No one asked probing questions, but everyone offered their support and love. I even joked with one mom who is going through a very messy divorce. “No matter what you think of him, no matter how much you hate him right now,” I told her. “You do NOT want him to die. Trust me.” Then we all laughed. A comfortable, I-know-kind-of-what-you’re-going-through kind of laugh. It was nice.

I didn’t leave until after 1 a.m.

Oh, and the best part: I won the Golden Ticket Raffle, meaning I got to choose any live auction item before the bidding started. I selected tickets to a Brewers game with a tailgating party. Turns out the tickets are second row, behind home plate. Ethan will love it.

Side note: one of my favorite conversations with Ethan took place as I was trying to explain tailgating to him the next morning. “Why would we get IN someone’s trunk for a party? Sitting in a trunk doesn’t sound fun…” and “So if there’s food and drinks IN the trunk, why isn’t it called a ‘trunk buffet’?”

Breakdown on the Playground

Ethan had a major breakdown yesterday.

He was playing outside at Kids Klub, the after care program at school (don’t even get me started about the use of the “K”s and the lack of punctuation), when he lost it. Tears flowed. Fists balled up. And piercing screams came out of his little boy body.

The college-aged counselor supervising the playground had no idea what to do.

Luckily, on Thursdays, the program supervisor is at the school. She was able to pull Ethan aside, hug him, and comfort him.

Apparently, the cemetery set him off. When I first visited the school, I thought it was a little unsettling that the church cemetery butts up against the playground. You can’t miss the gigantic tombstones just off the rock wall or the huge monuments near the swings. The living and the dead play near one another at St. B.

Interestingly, he was crying about his grandpa more than his dad. He told Mrs. B that he was sad about his grandpa. Why did he have to die? Mentioning his dad was almost an afterthought of his grief. Kind of an “oh, yeah, and I’m sad about my daddy, too.”

Last night, after his shower, I held Ethan for a long time. We read parts of a grief book that my mom bought last week. Some parts don’t apply to our situation, but others seemed to resonate with him. Ethan asked why he didn’t have anything of his dad’s to remember him by – unlike the photos and hanky and keepsake box and some other small things that he has that belonged to his grandfather and that Ethan keeps near his bed.

The truth: I don’t really have anything of Mike’s anymore. Mike either took his stuff to his parent’s house (and I haven’t gotten anything back except two broken laptops – even though I asked for a few things specifically) or it’s in storage in St. Louis (which I can’t access until I’m officially named trustee of his “estate”). I started explaining that daddy didn’t live with us when he died, so there really isn’t anything of his around. Then I remembered the shirts.

When Mike came to get his clothes in September, he left behind three button-down shirts. I don’t know if he purposely left them or if he just didn’t notice them in the corner of the closet. But I have these three random shirts – a white dress shirt, a striped Ralph Lauren shirt that he never wore, and a casual shirt from his law school days. “Ethan,” I said, “how would you like one of daddy’s shirts?”

Ethan ran down the hall to my room. He picked the casual shirt and immediately he put it on. “Look how BIG this is!” he said. “It’s down to my ankles.”

He giggled as he struggled with the sleeves which practically drug on the ground. He wore the shirt around last night, during Lauren’s bath time and during story time. Then he took it off and placed it on top of his stuffed animals, next to his pillow. “I want to sleep with it here,” he said. “This is the stuff I cuddle.”

Heart. Broken.