Going backward with grief: Ethan update (also genetic results are back)

While Ethan has handled the news of my diagnosis well at home, apparently he’s not doing as well at school.

His teacher emailed last night about problems staying focused and being disruptive in class. He told his teacher that he “wasn’t allowed” to talk about my cancer. He was also in trouble for saying “Paul Revere rode like hell to warn the Colonial militia about the British.” (OK, he shouldn’t have said “hell.” I get it. Also, thanks, History Channel documentary for putting that phrase in his mind.)

I went out for drinks with colleague friends last night, so I didn’t get home until nearly kiddo bedtime. My mom took Lauren upstairs for a bath, and I sat down with Ethan. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Do you know why your teacher would have emailed me today?”

He started to rub his eyes. He admitted that he has too much on his mind: my diagnosis trigger thoughts of my health, my mom’s health, and the deaths of his dad and grandpa. He also feels completely abandoned by Mike’s parents, who remain MIA (despite having multiple ways to contact us).

He’s afraid to say anything to the kids at school because he thinks a few of them will make fun of them or laugh about my hair loss. “Ethan, most of the moms know,” I told him. “And if anyone makes fun of you because I have cancer, I’ll call their parents directly and take care of it. Or I can take the kid out on the playground and kick their ass. Your choice.” (Wisely, he opted for me not to kick any kids’ asses.) I also assured him that I am fine, and I’m going to remain fine.

I assured him my mom is doing well. Her health issues seem to have disappeared, and other than arthritic pain from passing weather fronts, she’s doing really well.

We talked about Mike, and he cried because he can’t remember many of the good things about his dad anymore. I told some stories, and we laughed.

Overall, I think we’ve lost traction in the grieving process. We’re back to Ethan blaming himself for his dad’s drinking (“I should have stopped him. I should have told you.”), and Ethan worrying about what happens to him and Lauren if something happens to my mom or me.

The solution is just time. Time and talking. Time and talking and the generous understanding of those around him.

Good God, this kid’s been through a lot in his 9 years.


Unrelatedly, genetic testing is back and… of all the genes tested, all are negative for mutations. My genes are normal! This means genetics did not cause the cancer, and I don’t have an increase (compared to the average population) of getting breast cancer again or any of the other cancers examined in the test (brain, thyroid, ovarian). What it doesn’t answer, though, is why I did get cancer. It could be environmental. It could be a mutation on some other gene yet to be discovered. It could be that science just doesn’t have the technology to “find” the mutation yet in the genes examined.

I really don’t need the answer for “why me,” and I’m taking this as very good news. The information will help me and the medical team finalize surgery plans. It also means the kids do not need genetic screening for these cancers. However, Lauren will need to talk to her doctors when she’s in her early 30s about starting mammograms sooner than traditionally recommended.

Two-for-one: Dishes make me cry and In-laws still suck

Two unrelated stories today:


It’s been a heck of a week. I’m on spring break, which has an entirely different meaning as a professor than it did when I was a college student. I’ve spent the week grading, drinking large amounts of caffeine, and cleaning my closet. And when faced with no real schedule but still stuff to accomplish, I procrastinate by going shopping. (This has NOT helped the closet-cleaning situation since I’m filling it back up as quickly as I’m eliminating the junk.)

Yesterday I went to campus for a few hours. Afterward I took the long way home. I saw a housewares store that I hadn’t been in for a long time, and I jumped across three lanes to pull into the lot. (I’m a sucker for off-the-wall kitchen gadgets, so I love this particular store.)

I walked through the aisles, just browsing. Killing time. No real purpose.

I came to an end cap near the dishes and stopped.

I stood there, staring at the display, for five minutes. Not moving. Barely breathing. Eyes starting to water. Forcing people to find a way around me because I couldn’t move.

I walked closer to the display, touching the dishes.

When the first tear fell, I knew I needed to walk away. But I kept looking back.

The dishes were the same as the ones Mike and I registered for when we got married. We used those dishes for 10 years. I sold them in a yard sale last spring.

Selling them didn’t phase me but for some reason, seeing the same pattern, the same brand, (even though the colors are different now), took me back to a happier time. And the pit in my stomach grew as my eyes continued to water.

I loved those dishes. I fought to have those dishes as our “everyday” pattern. So many meals served. So many family celebrations. So many happy times (and some sad ones).

I left the store, without buying anything, and finished the drive home. I just can’t stop thinking about those dishes. Funny what brings you back, and how emotions can be tied to almost anything.


My ex-sister-in-law (T) messaged me this week with a story.

T divorced Mike’s brother about four years ago. She’s now happily married, and she and her husband own a well-known bar in Mike’s hometown.

So, T and her husband were walking hand-in-hand through the parking lot of a local “taste of” festival. Their bar was one of the participants, and they were going to make sure things were going well.

It was in the parking lot where she was confronted by a crazy woman, who appeared out of nowhere.

She started wagging her finger in T’s face. “I hope you’re happy! You girls ruined my life!”

T wished the woman well, and kept walking. Her husband was confused (and probably a little scared) by this crazy person confronting his wife.

The crazy woman? Mike’s mom.

Thinking about that confrontation – and T’s perfectly calm reaction (I probably wouldn’t have been so nice) – has made me smile all week.

Still blaming T and I for ruining her life. Yep, it’s our faults that your sons turned out like they did. And, just like always, it’s about her. I REALLY don’t miss the in-laws…

Birthday card

I don’t know why I opened it. I’ve never opened one before. But something just… MADE me open it. Thank goodness I did.

It’s been a month since I picked up mail at my PO box. Everything “real” and important (i.e., bills) has been rerouted to my house, and the only things that still go to the mailing location are addressed to Mike – or from his parents.

It was a birthday card for Ethan. Just a card, nothing else. But it was what was written inside that really pissed me off.

In its entirety (spelling, grammar, punctuation errors belong to them):


Just remembering all the great times we spent together makes us smile. Thank you for being such an amazing grandson. Warm wishes for a Happy Birthday to you.

We look at your pictures and see how much you look like your father. We wish we could see you and share pictures and stories of your dad while he was growing up.

We pray your safe and happy each night.

“All Our Love”

Grandma and Grandpa

Allow me to break this down:

The time “we spent together” amounted to MAYBE twice a year for a day or two each time. And during those times, Mike’s parents spent almost no time interacting with the kids. They would sit on the couch and watch, but not talk to or play or engage with Ethan or Lauren in any way. And they took every opportunity to NOT be in the same room as the kids…

“We wish we could see you” – this is probably the most offensive and inappropriate line in the entire note. If Mike’s parents were interested in seeing my kids, all they’d have to do would be call. I’ve told numerous people IRL that I’d allow them to see the kids (supervised, of course) if they reached out. It is NOT my obligation to reach out to them. However, in the interest of Ethan and Lauren, I would allow them to see their grandparents – IF their grandparents wanted a relationship with them.

My offense comes from including this in a note to a child – I’ve sheltered the kids from all the asshole things their grandparents have done before, during and since Mike’s death. And for them to include this line without context (like they haven’t even TRIED to see the kids), is amazingly inappropriate. I AM NOT THE ONE KEEPING THEM OUT OF MY KIDS’ LIVES, but I will not pawn my kids off on people who don’t want to see them (again, it would just take a phone call if the grandparents truly want to see E and L).

“Share pictures and stories of your dad while he was growing up” – this is another head scratcher for me. I have the handful of photos that exist of Mike as a kid. His parents’ basement flooded years ago and almost all their family photos were destroyed. And of the few photos that were saved, his parents couldn’t distinguish between Mike and his brother as kids. (Really? What kind of parents can’t tell their kids apart – the two don’t look ANYTHING alike and are four years apart in age!) Same thing with stories about the boys’ childhoods – his parents ALWAYS got the stories wrong (Mike’s stories were attributed to his brother and vice versa.)

I won’t even bother nitpicking the grammar and punctuation errors.

I decided not to share this card with Ethan. In fact, this makes me want to close the mailing address so I (the kids) won’t receive this kind of correspondence from them anymore.



I knew that Mike’s friends started a memorial scholarship at his former high school in his name. The $500/year scholarship will be awarded each year to a student interested in the theatre. (Mike was in several plays in high school, and continued acting in college on scholarship.)

A year ago, one of Mike’s friends called me to get my reaction to establishing the scholarship as part of the 20th class reunion. “Sounds fine,” I said. Since then, another friend sent me an announcement of the scholarship from the high school newsletter. I put the announcement away with other memorabilia from Mike’s life for Ethan and Lauren.

But today on Facebook, several of Mike’s friends from high school have posted/reposted a note about the scholarship and how it was established in his name by the school – and his parents – with a solicitation for donations to the fund.


I’ve mentioned before that my kids aren’t in need of anything. I’m very fortunate that Mike and I had the foresight to have ample assets for the kids. But, come on… his parents haven’t contacted the kids in any meaningful way in more than a year.

I’m pissed that they’re going to give money, attention, and who knows what else, to a scholarship to strangers instead of thinking about their grandkids. Their ONLY grandkids.

(Again, my kids don’t NEED anything, but to get a random package from Grandma and Grandpa with some baseball cards or a princess book – or to know that there were contributions to a college fund for them – would go a LONG way to making my kids feel loved by those assholes.)

In-law mail

Since moving to Wisconsin, I’ve maintained two addresses – our home address as well as a postal box. I’ve been transitioning my personal mail to the house address, but I keep the box open for things relating to Mike’s death – creditor letters, estate requests, correspondence from his parents.

I checked the box just before Christmas. Nothing from his family. Not surprised. We hadn’t heard anything from them since the weirdo birthday cards for the kids and the message that she left months ago. (Nope, never called her back. Figured if it was important, she would call again or just send the info in the mail.)

We don’t go to the box often. There’s really not much coming there anymore. But Ethan and I were out running around last weekend, and I popped in to get the mail.

Tons of catalogues. Creditor letter for Mike. Random crap for my mom. I almost missed the two envelopes. I started to open the one addressed to the kids, but stopped. I decided to let Ethan open it.

I handed him the envelope and mustered up my cheery voice, “Oh look, Eth! I think this might be a card for you and Lauren!”

He reached for it and tore it open. He read it aloud. I asked to see it.

The cover of the card read: To my granddaughter and my “grandson.”

“What the hell is wrong with these idiots?” I thought. This isn’t a card for kids. It’s a card that a grandparent would send to her GROWN granddaughter and her granddaughter’s HUSBAND – hence, the quotation marks around “grandson.” (I hate grammatical and punctuation stupidity, so this offense was particularly…offensive.)

There was some mushy bullshit preprinted in the inside of the card, along with a brief handwritten note: “Ethan and Lauren, the best part of this time of year is thinking about both of you. Love, Grandpa and Grandma (LAST NAME).”

So, they only think about their ONLY grandkids around the holidays? Nothing about “hope you had a good Christmas” or “would love to hear about school” or “maybe we can come see you sometime.” Nothing about “we still have your dad’s Christmas presents from LAST YEAR that we want to give you.” Nothing about “we’ll be sending all your dad’s stuff that your mom requested at the funeral because it’s stuff she wanted to give TO YOU BOTH !”  Absolutely nothing else in the card – no gift cards, not a check or a savings bond. Nothing.

My kids don’t need anything. I’m providing for them just fine. But a stranger (to them) sent holiday gift cards, and their grandparents sent… only a crappy-ass card?

I set the card aside and picked up the second envelope from them. This one was addressed to me. “Maybe they’re sending the kids’ gifts to me?” I thought, knowing that wouldn’t be the case. “Maybe this is an apology letter,” I thought, knowing I was wrong.

Nope. Envelope number two contained no handwritten note or even a “hope you’re all okay” note. It was just a statement from the storage company that the rate on Mike’s unit was increasing as of January 1.

And so, as I approach the one year anniversary of Mike’s death, he’s still gone and the in-laws are still assholes.