Monday, February 28, 2011

Home Again

I told my mom the next morning that I had to go home.  She was perfectly fine with whatever I wanted to do.  At any other time in my life I probably could have stayed and savored the water, the views, the solitude but I felt somewhat in limbo, not knowing where I stood in my life.  I am a “have at it” kind of gal.  If there’s a job to be done, I prefer to face it head on and get it over with. 

The boys were okay with going home too.  We packed up our things and left after lunch.  I wrote a thank you to Mary and Bill in the guest book they kept in the house.  It was a beautiful place to be; as I close my eyes and look back I see the yellows of my room, the blueness of the skies and water and dazzling night sky filled with stars.  The worries whirling around in my head could not be calmed by them.  I needed to get my house in order.

The drive back home always seems shorter to me, no matter where I travel.  It only took about an hour and a half.  We missed rush hour and the boys were in the backyard playing in no time.  One of the first things I did was to drive to the medical facility and bring back all the boxes and boxes of medical supplies we had been provided.  There were so many things left unopened.

I called my sister in-law, Christine and asked her about all of the drugs that I had for Rick.  My cupboards were full.  She said she would drop by later with Danny and take a look.  When she arrived and looked, she was astounded at the vast amount of items in “the pharmacy.”  As a pharmacist, she had seen so many sick people or spouses of patients who arrived in her pharmacy looking for medication to counteract the effects of chemo or other symptoms of disease.  She would be so sad to have to tell them that one pill might cost around $300, which they couldn’t pay. One bottle that she had in her hand was an anti-nausea drug that she told me was worth at least $1100.  I had a load of pain-killers which she said was the street addicts’ drug of choice and was worth almost as much.   We took load after load into the bathroom so that she could flush them down.  It was against the law for them to be re-dispensed or given to anyone else.  It just seemed like such a waste.  I also felt extraordinarily fortunate that Rick did not have to suffer without these drugs.

The medical supply company had come and removed the hospital bed, the bedside commode, the wheelchair and walker.  It felt great to reclaim my home.  I needed to do some spring cleaning and when I am in the antsy state of life cleaning is a great outlet for that energy.

I located the insurance policies and tried to contact the companies.  Rick and I had purchased the life insurance almost 15 years before and the company had changed hands several times.  I got out the policies and looked them over.  I almost keeled over when I read the beneficiary clause that  named my brother in-law instead of me.  I went ballistic; I was in a total panic.  How could we have made this mistake?  Oh dear god, tell me it isn’t true.  Tell me that I will have money to raise my boys with.  My mom came in and read it and she said I should call the insurance agent. 

Now this man must have been a hundred because he was quite elderly when we had purchased the policy from him.  When I called the number on the policy, a woman answered the phone and named a different insurance company and told me he had retired 11 years before.  Luckily, she did have his phone number and I was able to get him at his home.  He asked me to look for particular items within the policy and in  about ten minutes, he was able to assure me that I was fine; I would be the only beneficiary of the two policies.

Mom suggested a cup of tea to calm myself with.  We sat down and had a cup and my mom started to tell me about the night that my father died.  It was weird because I had never heard this tale before.  I would think she would have shared this prior to this moment.  I knew I had take it as it was being offered.

Karen and Paul dropped over to visit with my mom and to see the kids.  Michael Sean and Jack were thrilled to see their cousins.  They headed out back.  It seemed too calm and quiet in the house without Rick to concentrate on.  It felt extremely strange.  Karen decided to go with me over to the funeral home to retrieve the death certificates.  I would need them to submit the paperwork for insurance, to close accounts held in his name, to contact Social Security.  We drove over and she was telling me about how things were going over there.  Her children were taking Rick’s loss very hard.  They had known a lot of children who died and now it was their uncle.

I dropped Karen off and told her not to be a stranger and then went home.  My mom was putting dinner on when I arrived home.  The boys were out playing in the backyard.  I had brought in the mail with me.  There was a gigantic envelop for me from the Social Security Administration.  I had spoken to them a week before.  They just happened to call the day after Rick died.  When I got on the line, the woman was telling me that he was approved.  I told her that Rick had died.  She was pleased to tell me that since Rick had been approved, it would only be a case of changing out the form.  I still needed to send an additional thousand documents but at least the ball was rolling.
I was home and looking at getting things together.  I can do this.  None of this would be easy but I could get started on the mountain that was before me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Urge to Be Home

I have to get home.  I have to get going on figuring out my finances.  I have to call the insurance companies.  I have to pick up his death certificates.  I have to make a list.  I have to call Social Security.  I have to figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.  I have to move.  I have to get a million things done.  I have to go for a walk or I’m going to lose my mind.

“Mom, do you mind watching the boys while I go for a walk?”  I asked my mom. Mary and Bill had left about an hour before.  We were hanging out in the family room.  Jack and Mike were playing their Game Boys in their room; I got dressed and walked out in the sunshine of the late afternoon.  This was such a lovely island.  Even though it was spring there were a lot of people around.  I waved as I walked by to people who were about their homes. The road was poorly paved and wound around the island.  It was a beautiful view of the water near its edge on the northern tip of the island.  I could see right out onto the Potomac: it is much wider in this area south of DC.  I stood and just stared out over the water, a gentle breeze on my face.  I kept walking.

I took the road that split the island in two on the way back.  These houses were off the shore.  I saw one large house that had just been built; it looked like a mausoleum of sorts.  There were huge golden statues of half-naked people in their front yard.  It was a bit gaudy and out of place on the island.  I could not clear my head of the million worries that were bearing down on me.

I passed a house with a lifeguard chair in the front yard.  This was a beach motif; I liked it.  It made me think of our backyard at home.  Rick and I had put so much time into it with limited funds but we had it looking pretty great, all facts considered.  It was inviting and welcoming when you walked out the back door.

I had taken a derelict table from my neighbor, Mary.  I stained it and placed it in a discreet place in the yard.  This was my potting bench.  It was against a part of the privacy fence that was on one side of the patio.  It was perfect.  I kept my garden tools hung up on the fence and beneath the table were my extra pots, fertilizer, potting soil and odds and ends.  The best part about its location was the fact that it was secluded.  There was a large maple tree in the yard and its branches covered the table; it could be raining out and I wouldn’t even feel a drop. 

Yard sales were my best place for locating gems for my yard.  I bought two cheap would crates, about six inches high a foot wide and three fee long.  I filled the bottom with plastic to keep the soil from going through the slats and filled them with potting soil and then planted snap dragons in them.  They looked great.

We had a very old shed in the yard when we moved in.  Rick and I were on a tight budget; I knew there was no new shed in our future.  I gave it a fresh coat of stain and then painted the hardware a shiny black.  When we moved there was no fence in our yard and people frequently cut through on their way back from the store.  We had a two year old at home.  I wanted him safe and I wanted to be free from worry about him.  There was one great weeping willow in the yard and the willow and a plum next to it that gave sublime shade. We later put a jungle gym under those trees.

Rick had found an old tire and hung it in the tree for Jack and later Michael.  Jack could swing for hours on that.  It was great fun.  One year the plum tree gave fruit.  They were small but delicious.  I made loads of plum jam that year; it was my first and last attempt at anything quite as domestic.  I stuck with gardening.  We had two Adirondack chairs that were near the shed: Rick and I sat and watched the two boys play while we chatted in the evenings.  It was a terrific backyard.

I made it back to the house and walked in the through the laundry room.  It was pretty quiet in there.    Jack was still watching shows.  I asked how they were doing and went up to my room.  I threw myself the bed, thinking that I needed to go home but I would handle that one tomorrow.  The tears came again.  I was grateful that my mom was there to handle the boys.  I was having a hard time handling me.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fishing With a Stranger

There is nothing like being on the water.  Steve’s friends had left us a stocked refrigerator.  I made tea for Mom and got the boys some cereal.  The boys came out and wanted to watch television.  I took my walk and returned to them getting dressed.  My mom sent them into the bedroom to get dressed and washed up for the day. 

Jack was very antsy about getting outside.  I told him I needed him to wait for me.  We all went outside together.  There were two steps down to the grassy area that led to the sea wall and dock.  The dock went out quite far.  Michael wanted to go down next to the water, so I lifted him down to the rocky shore and he began throwing rocks into the water.  There is something so therapeutic about tossing rocks in the water.  I tried to show him how to skip a flat stone.  He loved trying.

My mom came out and sat in an Adirondack chair that was facing the water.  She wore her grieving hat and had her book.  It was really relaxing here.  Jack told me that he wished he had remembered his fishing pole.  I agreed that it would have been nice to have.  Jack came down and joined us on the shore, skipping stones on the water.

We heard a car pulled up in the drive.  I helped the boys up and we went to take a look.  It was Mary and Bill, the owners.  I went up and introduced myself and thanked them for their kindness.  They both came out to the area by the water where we had been.  I introduced my mom and the boys.

Jack walked out on the dock and Bill walked out on the dock after him.  He asked Jack if he wanted to fish.  Jack was thrilled.  He walked with Bill out to the shed and got set up.  In the meantime, we, ladies, went inside to make lunch with Michael who found his Game Boy and started playing.

Mary, Mom and I sat at the table by the huge picture window in the kitchen.  We sat and chatted about how they knew Steve.  I thanked Mary again for her generosity.  Mary has the type of personality where you feel as though you’ve met her before. My mom chatted with Mary and found out she was from New Jersey too. Mary had been a nun who left the convent.  Their children were all grown and off making their ways in the world. 

I went over near Michael and sat down.  I was feeling overwhelmed again.  I looked out the window and saw Jack on the dock with Bill.  They were standing side by side.  At any other time it would have been an endearing view, but it wasn’t to me today.  I was hit with the sadness of watching my son fishing with the wrong man, a kind and generous man, but he wasn’t my son’s father.  I just let the tears run down my face.  It should have been Rick and not this stranger that stood beside my son. I missed Rick and I ached for the lifetime that my boys would miss out on with their dad.

Michael looked up from his game and saw me crying. "Oh Mom, what's wrong? Don't cry. Oh, that's right, Daddy died." he said and leaned into me on the couch.  I would be crying a good long time.

Cobb Island

My mom told me that she was going to stay with me for a few weeks on the day of the funeral.  What a gift!  I was really rather shocked but so happy that she would be there with me to face the beginning of this new life.

Steve called and told me that his friend had offered their house to me and the boys. It was on Cobb Island in Maryland.  I never heard of it, but it sounded fine to me.  We planned to leave in a few days and of course, my mom would join us.

My mom and I went out shopping again.  I needed new clothes; everything I owned was falling off of me.  We were in the department store and walking toward the ladies section when I said, “Mom, I need a grieving hat.”  My mom replied, “Every widow has to have a grieving hat.”  I found a straw hat that I loved and told Mom she needed one too.  Remember, I said, “If you can’t have a sense of humor then all is lost.”  We had fun laughing and carrying on. it had been such a long time since I laughed or had fun.  I was looking forward to this adventure on Cobb Island.

Neither of our cars was new, but they were in okay shape.  I knew I needed to replace them with one reliable vehicle as soon as possible; it would have to wait until we got back.  I drove the Camry to Cobb Island.  It was spring and it was gorgeous in the DC area.  Mom kept “oo-ing” and “ah-ing” over the forsythia, cherry trees and the flowers everywhere. It wouldn’t be spring in New York for a few more weeks.

Each spring since Jack was a baby, we played “Forsythia.” A game I made up when he was two.  Whoever sees a forsythia bush and yells forsythia, wins.  When we hit the road we started playing.  Michael couldn’t quite say forsythia.  It came out a little more like forcynthia which made us all laugh. It was a battle between the two boys in the back.  Jack called the bushes on the passenger side and Mike claimed the ones on the driver’s side.  They tired of it by the time we were getting on the Toll Road. 

Jack had his Game Boy in the back seat with him and Michael wanted to play.  They began bickering and I didn’t have the patience for it.  I pulled over to the next Wal-Mart and purchased a Game Boy with games and batteries for Michael.  I wasn't going allow my two sons to drive me crazy.  Jack thought I was insane to buy Mike the Game Boy.  I desired peace throughout the land; I didn't care how much money it took.

We arrived at the island and made our way over the one bridge that gave access to the island.  We passed the post office, the restaurant, and the store on the way to the house.  It was exciting to see all the different homes and know that our borrowed home was around the corner.  We drove into a gravel driveway and parked under the trees.  The key was hidden on the outside of the shed in the yard. 

We unlocked the door and stepped into the washroom and walked through to the kitchen. It was beautiful and welcoming.  The front room looked out over to where the Potomac River meets the Wicomico River on the Western Shore.  The view was fantastic.  The boys were running around looking at the bedrooms and making plans for the one they wanted.

My mom preferred the bedroom downstairs; she could do without the steps.  I was upstairs and it was heavenly.  The room was painted a pale yellow and was filled with soft blues.  The bed was king sized; it had gorgeous linens.  When I got up on the massive bed, I sank my head into a mountain of pillows while looking out the large picture windows that looked out over the water.  It was awesome!  I felt soothed by it all.

On our first night at the house, we decided to drive over to the bridge restaurant that we saw on our way onto the island.  Jack was thrilled to have seafood, something I don’t cook and we enjoyed the view of boats on the water and seagulls sailing through the air.

After dinner, we drove around the island just to get a feel for it.  It wasn’t very large and perfect for taking a long walk.  There was a whimsical feel to the island; people decorated with all types of themes, a hodgepodge of sorts.  We crept along the road and looked out at the cottages and houses; the island was quaint. There is one road that goes along the outer shape of the island.  We crept along the road and looked at all the cottages and houses.  We saw houses with beach themes, Italian statues, nautical themes, gingerbread, and everything type of home from gorgeous new homes to simple shacks.

When we arrived home, I got the boys settled watching one more cartoon and then sent them off to bed. They said their prayers with me. "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  Guide me Jesus through the night and wake me in the morning light.  God bless, Mommy and Daddy and all the buddies that we love.  Amen."  Then I put my thumb on Michael’s forehead, made the sign of the cross and said, "God bless you and keep you." and kissed him.  Next was Jack, I blessed him and said, "God bless you and keep you" and kissed him.  “Love you, boys,” I said as I closed the door.

 Mom and I had a cup of tea and read a bit.  We were both exhausted and decided to head into bed. “I’m glad you came, Mama,” I told her.  “Me too," she said.   Love you, goodnight.” she whispered.

I started my lonely trek upstairs to my room, the yellow room.  I had never seen anything quite like it. I loved the huge windows that looked out over the water.  It was fabulous.  I could see the lights of boats moving out on the water, as well as lights from the different shores that opposed the island.  When I turned off the lights and settled in the bed I was able to see the stars too through the skylights in the ceiling. The stars were so bright out in the country. I was thinking how much Rick would have loved it but that wasn’t meant to be.  My sleeping pill was beginning to kick in.  I closed my eyes to the day.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


The day after Rick died.  I was so restless; I had to do something.  I put on my running shoes and walked out the door.  I started walking and didn’t stop.  I made a loop, up the hill, through Karen’s neighborhood and around the back way to our house.  It was a good mile and a half.  As my feet pounded the concrete I said, I have survived one day without him.  I have survived one day without him. I have survived one day without him.  I have survived one day without him. I have survived one day without him.  I have survived one day without him. I have survived one day without him.  I have survived one day without him…

On the second day, I did the same thing.  I tried to walk as fast as I could; I wanted to feel pain.  I wanted to hurt.  I felt that if I could hurt, then perhaps my heart would stop breaking.  As my feet pounded the concrete I said, I have survived two days without him. I have survived two days without him. I have survived two days without him. I have survived two days without him. I have survived two days without him. I have survived two days without him. I have survived two days without him. I have survived two days without him.  I have survived two days without him. I have survived two days without him…

Dr. Tiscione told me later that in some tribes in Africa, woman mutilate themselves when their husbands die.  I could completely understand them.  Walking was a form of self-mutilation for me.  On the third day, I did the same thing.  I walked out the door and kept going.  My feet pounded the concrete and in my head I said, I have survived three days without him. I have survived three days without him. I have survived three days without him. I have survived three days without him. I have survived three days without him. I have survived three days without him…

People thought it was great that I was walking.  What a terrifically healthy thing to do when one is mourning.  On the fourth day, I did the same thing.  I walked out the door and kept going.  My feet pounded the concrete and in my head I said, I have survived four days without him. I have survived four days without him. I have survived four days without him. I have survived four days without him. I have survived four days without him. I have survived four days without him…

The days turned into weeks and then months and then a year. I walked every day for 18 months until I ripped my Achilles tendon and had to stop.  I had lost weight and looked great but what did it matter? I had lost Rick.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Goodbye, Ricky

The morning of the funeral, Patty, my sister told me that she was planning a breakfast at a local hotel after the service.  My sweet sister, she had always been there for me and here she was again, taking care of me  We had the funeral service, burial and then this small reception afterward.  I was dressed and prepared for the day very early.  I was ready to get the show on the road.  Michael and Jack were dressed and waiting on the couch when the limo arrived.  I walked out on the front step and remember seeing a sea of cars in the street and people standing all over my front lawn.

Jack was pretty excited about the limo.  He was bouncing up and down on the seats and then had his face up against the window.  I loved that he was being a normal 12 year old today.  Michael was in my arms and looking out the window.  My mother in-law was talking to him. 

When we arrived at the church, many people were already there.  Steve met us walking up to the building.  I told him, I just wanted to go in and didn't want to talk to anyone.  He brought us back to the community room and I sat there with Michael.  He had been up early and it was getting to be his nap time.  He was three and a half but still took a nap at the babysitter’s.  I sat at the table with Michael on my lap, his head on my shoulder and was greeted by my family as they came into the room to walk in together when the service started.  This would be an extremely large procession of both Roszels and Mulherns.

I could look out the door and see across to the side door of the church.  Hoards of people were arriving.  In the middle of the crowd were men walking in with vestments  over their arms and hanging from their arms, some young, some old.  These men were all priests who came to con-celebrate the mass with Steve.They were directed to the room next door.

Imagine my sister in-law Eliza’s shock as she was changing her son’s dirty diaper and this group of men barged in the door.  I am sure they were as overwhelmed with the smell as she was with surprise.  She began to apologize to them and one said, “Really, I think you were here first, no worries.” She quickly picked up the baby and headed into the safety of our room.

All in all, there were 28 priests that con-celebrated the funeral mass with Steve.  My pastor had walked by the door of the room I was sitting in with my sleeping son up on shoulder and went to greet his fellow priests.  He never even acknowledged me.  I was saddened again.

I wanted this to be a celebration of Rick’s life.  I truly felt that if I believed in my faith; it was not a time of sorrow but a time to rejoice in fact that Rick was called home and that I would see him again one day.  The music began   (Here I am, Lord) and the altar boys led the priests and Steve in procession.  The sound of them singing as a group still gives me chills to remember.  They sounded like a choir of monks; their voices made my spirit float into the church.  It was hard not to smile.

We followed them in and I was met with the faces of many friends. Rick’s casket was already at the altar.  Michael had fallen asleep on my shoulder and I carried him into the church that way with his feet dangling and his head in the crook of my neck, with his rosy cheeks of sleep and a face of innocence.
I had thought ahead.  I brought Michael a Game Boy to play during the service.  He woke when I sat down when we arrived.  Jack was on the other side of him next to Matt.  He was great during the service and it didn’t really matter if he wasn’t.  He was surrounded by relatives and any one of them would have grabbed him and put him on their lap.
I can’t imagine how difficult it was for Steve to celebrate this mass.  Rick was his baby brother.  He talked very openly about Rick’s life and our faith.  The service was uplifting and hopeful and seemed to fly by.  My mind wanders back to the music which has always been my love.  It is such an important part of the liturgical celebration and filled me with contentment and peace.
Be Not Afraid

The recessional song was the “Lord of the Dance”.  This was a song that I had played many times at St. Philip’s at mass.  It was Rick’s favorite of mine and of course, we had heard it on our first date.  It is such a lively song.  As we through the church up the aisle out to the vestibule and walked out into the sunshine of the day, Jack looked at me and said, “Mom, don’t you just feel great?”  I smiled at him and agreed.  There was a wall of people filing out of the church.

There were more people that I hadn’t seen at the wake.  I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point. For each day, it felt like I could meter out a certain amount of emotional energy. Each part of the services took a toll.  Once I hit overload, I had to turn it off.  I headed with the boys to the limo.  As soon as my mother in-law got in, we left for the cemetery and burial.

The Sterling Cemetery is at the intersection of Cascades Blvd and Church Rd.  Rick’s plot is at the top of the hill under a dogwood tree; a tree that was in bloom on that particular day.  I’m so glad that I picked that spot.  For years I have driven by with the boys in my van and yelled, “Hi Daddy, We miss you!”or “They’re rotten kids, Ricky; they’re driving me crazy.  How could you have left me alone with them?  We love you!”

The burial was quick.  We said our goodbyes and went to the restaurant.  I was beginning to feel the relief of the ceremonies being over.  I was sad but was also feeling very good about how things had gone.  More than 500 people came to the services; they were a great source of comfort to me.
Everything was over.  I was exhausted and it was time to go.  I took my boys and went home.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

May 15th

The teachers at school were pretty embarrassed about the whole Valentine's Day debacle.  There were no more calls from Gary and things were looking up.  Our first date was on October 15th; Rick, a hopeless romantic, told me he never wanted things to get old between us so we celebrated monthly on the 15th. My sweet man would send me the mushiest cards each month and I would reciprocate as well.

On May 15th I happened to plan a first grade children’s mass and dinner for my class and their families.  I played my guitar and the children sang for their families. It was an evening mass and dear, Mary Stevens planned a dinner to follow the mass which she whipped up in the school cafeteria.  I invited Rick to come and I’m pretty sure that Steve and the pastor celebrated the mass.  It was a crazy night.  My students knew Rick and were talking to him.  I had to make the rounds at the tables and then it was clean-up time.  I started into the kitchen to help Mary and she kicked me out.  “Go, I can do it.  You and Rick have some time together. You’ve done enough for today.”

Rick and I were happy to get out of there.  We walked out of the building and I could feel the rush of cold air on me.  It felt great. I had run around so much that evening that I was over-heated.  The night air was refreshing. Rick walked me to my car and said he would meet me over at my apartment.  He followed me. 

We arrived at my apartment complex and parked.  I was so exhausted from the night.  I got out of my car and Rick stood at the side of his car and said to hop in.  I was a little confused.  “What?”  I asked.  He got back in the car and opened the passenger side for me.  “Come and sit for a second.” he said.  I was exhausted and dying to get into comfortable clothes but okay, I got in.

Rick looked at me very seriously and said, “I love you, Janie and always will.  Jane Anne Margaret Mulhern will you marry me?”  He handed me a box and I opened it to find a beautiful solitaire diamond.  This was the kind of moment that just took my breath away.  “Yes, Ricky,” I replied grinning ear to ear and we kissed and kissed and kissed. “Let’s go in and call your mom.” I said.  Rick told her and she said to come over that she had a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

We drove over and arrived at the house and saw Steve’s and Suzy’s cars outside.  We went in and there they were, along with Rick’s mom and Mary and Maurie Stevens.  Rick had told Mary earlier in the evening so that I would leave the school.  She called Rick’s mom and Suzy and told them.  They were just waiting for Rick to call and tell his mom.  They hugged us and congratulated us and tipped their glasses of champagne to us.  I was on my way to a lifetime of loving Rick.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Courtin', Rick Style

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, Rick and I were pretty established as a couple.  He invited me to the Roszel Thanksgiving dinner at his Aunt Kathy’s and Uncle John’s home in Kensington, MD.  I was really nervous to meet the rest of his family.  I had already experienced Sunday at his mom’s house, Redskins and dinner every weekend.

Rick’s brothers had been telling me horror stories about their Aunt Kathy.  She was notorious for organizing games which everyone had to participate in.  Evidently, there was no saying no to Aunt Kathy.  We arrived at about the same time as Karen and Paul and the kids. Rick had gone in the kitchen and we were trooping in behind him.  Aunt Kathy and Uncle John were standing in the kitchen ready to greet us all.  Rick looked at his uncle and aunt and said, “Uncle John and Aunt Kathy, this is my girlfriend, Karen.”  I gave him an odd look.  I could hear Karen cackling behind me.

“I’m Jane and it’s so nice to meet you,” I said to his aunt and uncle and then kind of glanced over my shoulder and said, “I have no idea who he is.” There was a roar of laughter from all around me.  Poor Ricky, he was a nervous wreck; he turned bright red and continued walking into the family room.  It was 28 years ago and Karen is still talking about it.

It was sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas that I knew that this was it; he was the one.  It is strange how one day we're talking like a dating couple and somehow overnight we started talking about our future together and our plans.  I traveled up to NY to see my family for Christmas.  I remember that my mother looked at me and knew that it was serious.  She told me that she had never seen me as happy and I was happy.  It was difficult to be apart from Rick. 

I left the farm where my parents lived and took the Greyhound bus to NYC to visit my Aunt Kathleen.  She wanted all the details.  Over many cups of tea, I spilled the beans, which was great fun.  She was dying to meet him.

Our plan was to take the train home and arrive in DC before New Year’s Eve. Rick was at the train station to pick me up. He had secret plans for the holiday and wouldn’t tell me anything about it. It was good to be back in his arms.

The next day was New Year's Eve; we were all dolled up for the occasion.  I was wearing a sea foam green dress with heels and looked quite beautiful; Rick wore a suit and tie.  The weather was really bad.  It had snowed and the temperature had been hovering around zero since Christmas.  

When he picked me up he told me that I had to be blindfolded for the ride to our destination. Ah, a man of mystery, I had no idea where we were going.  Rick tied a scarf around my head in the car.  It was at least a twenty minute ride. It was exciting.  He stopped the car and took off the scarf;  there was nothing around but a few dark buildings.  We were in a parking lot; he helped me out of the car.  I didn’t know what he was doing and still had no idea where we were.  We walked up a path through the snow; I could see the city lights around us.  We walked toward the Potomac River; I knew because I could see the monuments and at the end of the parking lot I saw it!  It was a large boat.  We were going on a New Year’s Eve Party dinner cruise on the Potomac River.

It was a magical evening surrounded by the lights of DC and Virginia.  The monuments were glowing in the distance.  We danced to a live band, ate great food and enjoyed the view from the Potomac.  It was awesome. This man knew how to court me.

Rick and I hit a couple of snags after the New Year.  Gary, my former boy friend, called twice while Rick was at my apartment.  The first time I didn’t know how to handle it.  I asked him why he was calling.  He missed me, blah, blah, blah.  I was steamed and hung up on him.  I came out and told Rick about it.  He was pretty jealous.

The second time it happened.  He looked at me when I came back from the phone and said, “Jane, I don’t understand why you don’t just hang up on him as soon as you know it’s him,”he was ticked.  “Okay, you have a point. I will.” I said and did the next time he called.

Around Super Bowl time, I invited my friends Mary and Jack over to watch the game with Rick and me at my apartment.  We had made food and were pretty intent on the game.  The phone rang and it was him again.  Gary said if I would meet him downstairs that would be it.  He just wanted to see me.  He worked for the telephone company and had tapped into a line in the building with his hip set.  He was downstairs talking on the phone.

I took the trash down and there he was.  “Gary, what are you doing here?”I wanted to punch him.  “I missed you and wanted to see you,” he said.  “What happened to you dumping me and not being interested in being a couple anymore?”I asked.  I couldn’t  believe him!  He said,  “I just wish we could be friends; I would love to go sail with you again.” “As tempting as that sounds, Gary,” I said sarcastically.  “That ship has already sailed.  Do not call me again and don’t ever come here again."  I turned around and walked upstairs.

I came in the apartment and Mary came over to me in the kitchen.  Rick watched the interaction and he knew something was up.  I felt like it wasn’t fair not to tell him.  He was pretty annoyed with me for going downstairs. We talked about it later and I could see how I hurt him.  I would have been devastated had he done the same thing to me.  I had never met anyone quite like Ricky.  He had awesome blue eyes, a perfect smile and a gentle way about him.  He made me feel safe and loved.  I could see this situation had made him feel uneasy about us.  I was really sad.

At school, a week before Valentine’s Day the school secretary started taking bets on what hour of the day Rick would propose.  I knew that he wouldn’t propose because of what happened.  I told them that I got the money if they were wrong.  They insisted that it would be that day so I just let them go on teasing me and on the day after Valentine’s Day I was 14 dollars richer, sad, but richer.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Telegram

Rick and I met on a blind date.  Mary Stevens, mother of one of my students at St. Philip’s had me on her radar.  A single, young, catholic school teacher needs a single, young catholic man.  Mary’s cousin was best friends with Suzy and knew all those single Roszel boys.  She decided to work her match-making magic. 

Believe me; a single, young catholic school teacher has very little chance of meeting anyone teaching school.  As a matter of fact, my social life was pretty limited and my circle of friends small.  I came to Northern Virginia following my best friend, Mary who had a teaching position at St. Philip’s.  They had an opening at the school and I got an interview.

My interview went something like this, “Make sure the children pray every day.  Be good to the children.”  I was sitting before what looked like the mother superior from “The Sound of Music.” Sister looked like she had put in more than a few years in front of a classroom of children.  I was at the Diocesan Office and as quickly as I got there, I was out the door.  I was an official catholic school teacher.

Our first date was carefully planned by Rick; we went to Ireland’s Own an Irish pub in Old Town Alexandria. He arrived at my apartment; it was a little awkward at first, but we got beyond that after a few minutes.  We ate dinner, talked about ourselves and listened to the band play Irish tunes.  It got a little rowdy with audience participation and so we meandered outside for a walk and then headed back to Annandale where I lived.

When we returned to my apartment Rick stayed and we chatted.  We had a lot in common with our families being so similar.  Overall, the night was a success and he only waited two days to call and invite me out again.  However, I had plans, my birthday party at a friend’s house; I invited him.  This was the night that Steve’s worlds clashed; he was invited to the party and was shocked beyond words when he walked in and saw me sitting next to his brother.  They had a good laugh.

Word of my dating spread like wild fire throughout the parish, thanks to Mary Stevens.  She was pretty proud of herself.  Her next step was to put our names on a piece of paper and put it under a statue of St. Ann that she had on her dresser.  I had no idea about all of that but she let me know later. Rick and I saw a lot of each other; he frequently came over after work and would eat dinner with me.

One day at school, I was teaching and Sister Jane, the principal came down the hall with an older nun and interrupted and asked me to come to the office.  The older nun stayed with my students and we left the room.  The principal’s face was flaming red and she looked visibly upset.  I was so puzzled.  She led me down the hall to the teachers’ lounge and sat me down at the table.  She looked very hesitant and then said, “Jane, you have a telegram.”  I had never in my life received a telegram.  The secretary and the nurse had come down the back hall to the lounge and were looking in at me.  They all appeared very concerned.

I took the telegram and opened it.  It read, “Jane, Happy One Month Anniversary!  I’ll see you tonight. Love, Rick.”  I was mortified.  I looked up at the principal, the secretary and the nurse and said, “Ah, everything’s fine.  I’m fine.  I’d like to go back to class now.”  My cheeks were the ones flaming red now.  I got up and headed down the hall.  My heart was racing.  I had no idea it had been a month.  I was making dinner for him but I never put it all together.

Sister Jane was convinced that someone had died and that I needed to be surrounded by them in case I fell apart.  I told them the story at lunch and those teachers gave me a hard time of it; I was teased mercilessly. 

Rick arrived after work at my door.  There he stood with a long stem red rose, a present and a card  I was being wooed!  We had a good laugh over dinner about the telegram.  “I wanted to make it special in some way.  I thought that you’d be surprised,” he explained.  “Oh, I was surprised alright, I almost died of embarrassment!” I laughed.  He leaned over and kissed me.  “I love you, Jane, he whispered in my ear.” 

Oh my!  This man is smitten!

Rick gave me a Waterford crystal vase, the flower and the card which was endearing, if not slightly overwhelming.  I had only come off another long relationship not long before I met Rick.  I wasn’t in quite the same place as he was, but I was getting there.  He was just a few steps ahead of me.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Wake

I remember my mom describing my father's calling hours to me when I was younger. "Everyone came to see, Jimmy.  I know that going can be difficult for people, but I found it so uplifting.  I needed to hear how wonderful he was.  I needed to hear about his kindness, humor, and love.  At a time when I had nothing, I could cling to the words people gave me.  Each person who came helped to ease my pain," she explained.

This will be a good thing, I thought.  Yes, you're trying to convince yourself of that, Jane.

I decided it would be a good idea to sit down and chat with Jack about what would be happening when we got to the church.  “Jack, Daddy will be in a casket.  Remember, Aunt Kathleen was in one when went to her funeral.  Dad will be in the casket and the top will be open.”  I explained.  I wanted him to know what to expect.  “Mom, I’m a little worried about it,” he said.  I told him," Jackie, I will be right there with you.  Uncle Steve, Grandma, Grandpa, Grammy will be there too.  It may seem scary in the beginning but he’s our dad.  We need to see him.”  “Okay, Mom,” he said.  We’ll be going first and we'll have some time with him before anyone else arrives.  We’ll go in and see him and say a prayer.  I bet it won’t even feel weird after that."  I gave him a hug and sent him off to get ready.  “Love you, Babes.” I called as he went into his room.

There were loads of people at my house when Steve arrived.  He was going to bring Jack and me;  my parents would meet us at the church and his mom was coming with Suzy.  My church was a modern church (renovated since then) with the altar in the center and three areas of seats around it.  The lights weren’t on when we entered the church.  The funeral director was there and chatted with Steve.  The casket was at the front and to the left of the altar.  It was strange to see it there; it looked out of place in the familiar surroundings of the church we visited for many years.

I took Jack by the hand and said, “Ready?”  He said, “Yes, Mom,” and we walked up to see Rick.  He looked the same as he had for the past few weeks, puffy, pallid and sick.  “Oh Mom, I’m okay,” Jack said.  We said a prayer together and then went to look at the collage that Jack and Suzy had put together that was in vestibule of the church.  They were beautiful!  There were pictures of Rick at all ages and many of the boys with Rick.  Jack was proud as everyone stood looking at the photos. 

Karen, Paul and family walked in and Jack walked over to Matt.  They had been best buddies since they were born.  Karen and I were seven weeks apart when we were pregnant.  They have always been inseparable. The boys walked up to the casket to take a look at Rick together.  When they finished they went back to the pictures and were talking with their cousins.  People started to arrive and we formed a receiving line at the front of the church.  I lost track of him for awhile after that.

I can’t tell you that I remember everyone who came but when they started coming, they didn’t stop.  Many of my friends from school were there.  There were so many walking in.  I was so happy to see all of them.  It warmed my heart to feel their support again.

People from all stages of my life came. My childhood friends traveled from NY together.  Each person that stood with Rick and me at our wedding came.  Parents, students, colleagues from my years of teaching came.

There were people from every area of our lives, our pediatrician, Jack's teachers, friends from school, their parents, his coaches, teammates, his principal came.  Between the Roszels and the Mulherns there was a flood of people who arrived to pay their respects.  It was overwhelming and at the same time so comforting.

Many people had stories and tales to tell about Rick. His childhood friends stood with his brothers telling old stories and laughing about good times.  Guys that he lived with in his early twenties were happy to see each other and share a few laughs.

I looked up and saw my family sitting in the chairs looking like the doldrums. I walked over and told them, this is a celebration of life, get up and look lively.  I told my Mulhern sister in-laws earlier that I expected them to be up and mingling. If I caught their eyes, they popped up and started talking to people. I loved hearing the din of people talking and laughing about Rick.

My mother was right.  It was so wonderful to see people who knew Rick and loved him.  It was a huge gift to me.  I felt such support and empathy; it was a comfort.

At the end of the two hours, I searched for Steve and said, “I can’t do anymore. Get me out of here.”  He just started to make the transition and told people we would be back in two hours.  I was out of there.  Steve drove me to Karen’s and Paul’s house where my school had provided a dinner for my family.  It was overwhelming once again to receive the generosity of the supportive people I worked with; they were life-savers.

I couldn't eat anything, still feeling that nauseous pain in my stomach. We weren’t there long before it was time to leave again for the church.  Steve drove me back.  Jack ran off to be with his cousins.  They had discovered the coffee pot in one of the rooms that the church had provided.  They thought they were drinking coffee with caffeine and were acting like goof balls. It was nice to see Jack laughing and carrying on for a change.  The coffee was decaf, of course, and they were full of pounds of sugar they dumped in their cups.

The night was a blur of people coming and going.  I saw several of my friends in the back who didn’t get in line to come to see me.  I knew it was because of their issues with the death.  Remember, I was the one who had avoided dead bodies at all costs.  I could see the signs and knew.  One friend had been with her dad at age 8 when he died of a heart attack with her at the park.  I knew when I saw her weeping that none of that had to do with me; she was fighting her own demons.

It was exhausting to see people for 4 hours. As soon as my watch indicated "overtime," I told Steve that I needed to leave.  He started the closing prayers and that was the end of it.  I was dying to go home and just have a cup of tea.  I had made it through the first leg of the journey.  I could see the finish line.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Doctors and Sighs........

I woke up the next morning at 4 a.m.  I remember thinking I should be doing something, breathing would have been a good start.  My nose was completely stuffed.  I went in the bathroom and took a look at my face and it wasn't a pretty sight.  My eyes were quite puffed out; most of the red from my crying was gone.  However, there were dark circles under my eyes; I was trashed.

My head was aching with pain.  I went out to the kitchen and got a decongestant and made myself a cup of tea.  I had an itching to do something but I didn't know what that something was.  I called the urgent care center and made an appointment; I had just taken my temperature and was running a low grade fever.  I was sure it was a sinus infection.

I called Karen around 8 to see if they were up and if someone could come over and stay with the boys.  Jack and Mike strolled out and started eating breakfast and then wandered into the den to watch television.  I told them that I was going to go to the doctor and that I would be back.  Karen was on her way over to watch them.  I could sense Jack's uneasiness immediately.

"Honey, I have a sinus infection; my head hurts and I just need to see the doctor.  I'll be right back.  It's okay.  I am okay.  Aunt Karen will stay with you and she'll call me on my cell phone if you need me."  I said to him, giving him a hug.  I kissed Michael and was out the door.

Urgent care on the weekends at my medical facility is on the first floor of the building.  It can be a "hit or miss" with the doctor you get.  I waited in the exam room after the nurse had taken my vitals.  When the doctor walked in, I started to get upset.  I don't want to explain this.  I don't want to go through this.  Just tell her and get it over with.

I told her that I thought I had a sinus infection.  I tried to talk but I started to cry.  It was difficult for her to examine me.  I just broke down crying.  I don't want to be here but if I don't get medicine, I'll be sick and I have a lot of things I have to do in the next three days.  Get a hold of yourself.

I tried to talk again and got a little bit out.  I said, "My husband died yesterday that's why I'm upset. I have a sinus infection and have been running a fever."  I was sobbing and couldn't catch my breath again.  "Really, I just need an antibiotic."  I said and blew my nose.  Yes, it would be Rudolph's nose.  I am blessed with a nose that turns red at the first drop of a tear.

The doctor examined me.  "Mrs. Roszel, are you sleeping?" she asked. "No, I replied.  I had been averaging about 4 - 5 hours a night. 

She handed me prescriptions for an antibiotic, a sleeping pill and a sedative.  I said, "Why do I need a sedative?" She said, "You seem very upset and I thought it might help you over the next few days."  I looked at her and tilted my head to the side. " My husband died less than 24 hours ago; it's upsetting.  I don't think I need a sedative."  She looked at me and said, "Why don't you fill it?  Then if you need it, you'll have it".

I felt like I had just left the Pill-Pushers of America Office.  What happens when you're in pain and they try to drug you up?  Do you feel less pain?  Are you in a mind-altered state?  Do you become so relaxed that you don't experience the grief and then later it hits you?

I knew that this was going to be tough but it seemed to me I couldn't run away from it.  I needed to cry.  I needed to feel the pain, the ache, the heart break.  How would I make it to the other side if I didn't walk through it?

I filled all three of the prescriptions and wrestled with the whole idea on my drive back to Sterling. I walked into my house, went to my kitchen sink, opened the bottle of Xanax and poured them down the drain. Death is depressing; death is sad.  Death is something I needed to grieve and being sedated was not going to help me face this horror for the next few days.

People started coming over again sometime in the morning.  I asked Michael and Jack to get dressed.  My brothers, Mike and Dan, were there and  they went out back with them to play around. At about 11:00 my parents walked through the door.  This is who I was waiting for; I wanted my mom.  She hugged me very tightly and cried with me when she saw me.  My dad had that serious, sad-looking face.  "How ya doin', kid?" he asked. "Not too great," was all I could say.

I sat next to my mom on the couch and held her hand.  Being with her, brought it all up again to the surface where it would light my nose again.  It was fine because they were there now.  I felt like I didn't have to think now.

My sister, Patty and her husband Michael had arrived and were staying in the local hotel a couple of blocks away.  My parents were going to stay with me and I could sleep on the couch.  I wasn't sleeping much anyway; what did it matter?  All my family came,  Jimmy, Tom and Tammy and their girls, John and Helen, Billy, Eliza and the boys.

There is nothing like being surrounded by family when you feel so vulnerable.  It was hard for them.  What could they say?  What could they do?  They could just be with me and love on my boys.

The Roszel came too.  Peter and Barb flew in from Kansas and Mark and Deb came with the kids from North Carolina.  Everyone else lived locally and came to just be with us.

Suzy took Jack off to a craft store and started on a project of making a collage pictures of Rick's life.  What a gift for him.  He put them together and we had them at the church.

My mother and I went off to the mall to get  some clothes for the funeral services.  I had lost fifteen pounds since Rick was diagnosed and didn't have anything that fit me.  We went to the department store.  "Mom, I don't want to wear black." I said looking at her for a reaction.  "Jane, you should do whatever you want to do," she replied.  "I just feel like I want this to be a celebration of Rick's life.  If I really have faith and believe in everything I've espoused to all these years, then it's time for celebration.

We found two outfits; one was a maroon skirt and top and the other a green pant set.  I was good to go.  I had to think about the boys and make sure that I had everything for them set too.

I was totally worn out by the time we left the store.  "Jane, you'll be okay." my mom said and took my hand.  "I know, Mom, I just don't really want to have to be okay."  "You're so strong, Jane.  I know you'll be alright." she said in reply.  I let out a big sigh, a "Mulhern" sigh; the kind that we use to fill in the blanks of life.  It's something between a breath and whine.  We all know it when we hear it. We were almost home and I said,  "I'm so tired of being strong, Mom," and let out another Mulhern sigh.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


The funeral director, Chris, met us at the door and brought us back to his office.  It is funny how solemn they have to act which is understandable but I can be quite irreverent at times and just have to laugh.  Steve and I would get to either laughing or crying throughout this meeting.  I am not sure that Chris knew how to take us.  Every once in awhile he would be laughing in spite of himself.

He asked me numerous questions about my church, calling hours, funeral service, burial, cremation, open/closed casket, obituary details and on and on. Since Rick was so young and because our families were so big, Chris felt we were likely to have hundreds of people at the services. The largest room in the funeral home couldn't handle the masses of people. He suggested that we hold the calling hours at my church 1-3 and 4-6, leave the body in the chapel at the church over night and then have the funeral the next day.  Everything sounded fine to me, surreal but fine.
Next, we went into the showroom to select a casket; this really felt like being in a used car lot. I know it was supposed to be dignified but really, the hilarity of the situation just cracked me up.  Imagine a southern drawl,  “Over he-a, we have the exquisite titanium-covered elite model.  This is a true gem, will last an eternity...and ova he-a, we have the sleek, solid mahogany hand-crafted presidential model with gold trim.  Your loved-one will be comfortable for many years to come.  I got hysterical; it too was funny. Steve started laughing too.  If you can't have a sense of humor at these times, all is lost.

One wall was devoted to cement liners; these would keep the water out of the casket for years.  Steve looked at me and said, “I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to matter where he’s going.”  We were laughing again; I told Chris I would pass on that.

So, here I was in the casket parking lot trying to decide which box to put my beloved, deceased husband in for eternity.  Chris was nice enough to show us the rest of the models and then leave us for a few minutes. Steve and I would vacillate between laughing and crying every few minutes.
Finally, I chose the one that Rick would have liked for its craftsmanship; it was a Jewish casket, made of redwood.  It was simple and beautiful. We went back into the office and continued with paperwork and plans for the big celebration.

We left the funeral home with the arrangements made and set off  to the cemetery.  We drove to the top of the hill and met an ancient-looking woman who was the care-taker, a tiny woman with gray hair pulled back in a pony.   She had a book of the plots with her.  Steve introduced us and she gave us her spiel on different locations.  She turned and looked at me and said, “One plot or two?”  I burst out laughing.  Stephen looked at her and told her we needed a minute.  She sounded so much like she was offering sugar at a tea:  I couldn’t hold it together.  “One lump or two?”

I got a hold of myself and looked at Steve and said, “Okay, what do I do?  I don’t know if I need two."   What in the world prepares anybody to have these conversations?  Steve said, “Well, if you remarry and decide you want to be buried somewhere else, they could always throw me in there.” " Alright, that sounds good enough to me."  I walked back to the woman and said, “I’ll take two and I want them here under this dogwood tree.”  “Perfect,” she said and toddled back to her truck to get the papers to sign.

I was spent.  We drove back to my house.  There were more people and more food; I just sat on the couch in a comatose state and watched everyone go by, like I was watching from outside of my body. I was longing for my mother.  Why is that no matter how old I get, when the chips are down, I still want my mother?  I guess just the thought of my mom conjures feelings of safety, warmth and comfort.

It was a day well spent. I knew in my heart that this was going to be a celebration of Rick’s life, not the dirge of death.  I wanted people to remember all the wonderful things that made Rick the special man he was.  If I could have had a party, I would have.  I would have preferred music, food and dancing.  I guess that’s the Irish in me.  Yes, I was sad, but I wanted to celebrate Rick.  I believed he was in heaven and that was something to rejoice in, regardless of how much my heart ached.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life

We left the hospital.  Paul, Karen, Steve and I headed for the kids.  The sun was shining; it was a beautiful spring day.  We walked into Paul’s house and the kids were downstairs playing.  My mind was set on Jack.  I was happy that I had taken a few minutes before I left in the ambulance to tell him that Rick died.

I started down the stairs to the basement when he came running up the stairs and looked up and saw me.  “Is he okay, Mom?”  My heart dropped to my stomach.  “No, Jack, he’s not okay.  Daddy died.” I said.  “No, not my dad, not my dad!” he yelled as he burst into tears.  He climbed the stairs to me and I sat back on the stair and held him.  We both cried.

I walked with him to the living room and held him in my arms on the couch.  He was sobbing. Of all the pain I have had to bear in my life, watching my sons grieve the death of their father has been the most painful for me.  I rocked him like a baby.

All of his cousins came in, Bobby, Christine, Matt and Stacy; their faces were tear-stained and full of shock. Paul said, “Let’s say a prayer for Rick.”  I don’t remember what we prayed.  I only remember holding Jack and Michael Sean by my sides and crying.  I didn't want to let them go.

I told all of them I needed to go home.  They all came to our house. Karen started calling all my family and Paul had started on his way to check on Rick’s mom and to bring her back out to our house.

I have the most incredible family and the most incredible friends and the most incredible colleagues.  The next few days were filled with some of the kindest acts of love and friendship that I have ever received.

I sat on the couch in my living room while my friends and family came and cleaned and scrubbed and straightened my house.  My friends, Pam and Carl, showed up almost immediately with coffee, drinks, lemonade, ice and a huge cooler.  As quickly as they came, they slipped out, not wanting to be intrusive.

My friends Linda, Teresa and Norma cleaned, vacuumed and washed everything in sight.  People started arriving with food; they sorted it, arranged it, and stored it.  These angels thought of everything and yet somehow remained in the shadows.  Linda and Norma would greet my family at the door and invite them in, settle them and get them something to eat or drink.

The phone rang and Linda brought it to me.  "It's Loudoun Hospital," she told me.  "Hello," I said into the receiver.  "Mrs.Roszel, this is Nurse Woodard from Loudoun Hospital calling.  I understand that your husband, Richard Roszel died today. About three hours ago.. I'm sorry for your loss". Where was this going?

"I'm calling to find out if Richard was an organ donor," she said. "No, he wasn't." I replied.  "Mrs. Roszel, would you consider donating Richard's organs?" she asked.  "I would be happy to donate any organ but Rick had multiple myeloma, bone cancer; I don't think you could use any of his organs. Can you?" There was an audible pause. "Mrs. Roszel, no, I don't think it would be possible.  I'm sorry to have bothered you." she said and then we hung up.  I couldn't help but think that someone didn't do their homework on Rick.  It was a strange conversation; I wished that I could have given any part of Rick's body to help.  It might have taken a bit of the sting out of the day.

My boys were outside with their cousins, playing on the swings, climbing in the fort or throwing the ball around.  I could see them pass the dining room window now and again.  Every 15 minutes or so Jack would wander back into me and say, “Mom, are you okay?” “I’m okay, Jack. You  go and play. I’m right here,” I replied. 

It’s funny how quickly I began making decisions in my mind.  Jack is not going to be burdened with taking care of me for the rest of my life.  He’s a child and deserves to be a child.  Michael does not need to go to the wake but he can come to the funeral. I want that hospital bed gone and I want my house put back together again.

I felt immobile at this point.  I felt the weight of the worry gone but I was washed with the sadness of trying to fathom my life without Rick.  Every dream, every hope, every wish of my life was filled with Rick and suddenly he was gone.  It was hard to “just be” without him, already.

I am happy that I have such a big family.  They started to arrive and of course, because our family is so big, they didn’t stop coming.

Steve arrived with his “priest” tools and started to talk to me about the services for Rick.  Steve and I have been friends for a very long time.  I knew him from St. Philip’s, my first teaching experience.  I knew him four years before I met Rick. I played guitar and sang at the school masses; Steve and I planned together before the start of mass. He was a young associate pastor, played guitar and came to my class and entertained my first grade students. 

Steve said he would go with me to make the funeral arrangements the next day.  He scheduled an appointment with Adams-Greene Funeral Home and another with the Sterling Cemetery.  I had never made arrangements for anyone before so this was all new to me.
My mother in-law hugged me when she walked into my house. We sat on the couch feeling overwhelmed by it all. We both said we couldn't believe Rick was gone.  I couldn’t begin to understand her pain, the pain of losing a child.  My heart ached for her.

In that moment, it seemed the focus was on me, perhaps because I had instantly become the weeping widow.  I felt catatonic but I was acutely aware of how Rick’s loss impacted us all.  We were all grieving, with no grief greater than the next.  Rick meant a lot to many people.

It had been 13 weeks from diagnosis to death.  Every one of those days I spent being so burdened with the anxiety of all that lay before me.   I don't know what I was expecting when Rick died but it wasn't the calmness that I felt sitting there.  I was so astounded at my reaction.  The grief I felt had started 13 weeks before.  Each day and every little piece that the cancer chipped away from Rick was a part of my daily grief.  I suppose I was expecting the big fireworks at the end.  It had been a rough day but the fireworks had been going on for 13 weeks and today was just the first day of the rest of my life.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Baseball, Blue's Clues and Goodbyes

Jack had an early baseball game and Karen was going to drop Michael off on the way.  Michael came running up the steps and burst in the house.  “I’m home,” he shouted and we waved to Karen and the boys in the van as they left.

“Come here, pal,” said Rick and Michael Sean came over and put his head in Ricky’s lap.  Rick hugged him.  Mike said, “Mom, can you turn on my shows, please?”

Rick was sitting in the living room in his chair looking out the window; this was his favorite spot to watch the cars and see things coming and going on street. “I’ll get you some cereal,” I said on my way into the kitchen.  I came back and handed it to him.

Just then, Karen pulled into the driveway.  I opened the front door; it had started to rain.  Jack came in with is uniform on and said.  “They canceled the game.”  “Okay, Jack, go change and take those cleats off outside, please,” I said.  “Hi Dad, love you!” he shouted as he ran past Rick and went to change.

I took Rick’s bowl into the kitchen. “Mom, I want Blue’s Clues,” yelled Mike from the den.  “I’m coming,” I said.  This was Mike's favorite website;  he loved playing the preschooler games.  I went in and started to log on.  We could hear the low screaming of the modem as the computer was connecting to our server.  “I know how to do it,” Michael said.  I looked at him and said, “Oh, sweetie, I know you do"  Jack had just turned a program on the television and was settling in on the chair to watch his cartoons. 

I got up and walked to the living room.  Rick was sitting in his chair but he was rather slumped. “You, okay?” I asked.  He didn’t reply his mouth was opening and there was air coming out of his mouth.  I ran to him.  “Rick!  Oh, my god!  Jack, call 911.  Oh, my god, help me!”

Jack ran into the room.  His face was white.  He picked up the phone.  “Mom, Mike is on the computer!”he told.  "Oh, god," I screamed. "GO GET TERESA!”  Teresa was our neighbor across the street.  It was a miracle that she was up and dressed when Jack came banging on her door.  She even had her shoes on.  She came flying across the street behind Jack.

I had gone into the den and was trying to disconnect the computer to get the phone line.  I kept banging my foot on the floor in frustration. The cord of the phone reached into the living room and I was watching Teresa trying to get the chair in a flat position to give Rick CPR. 

This was really like one of those nightmares where everything is in slow motion and every second seems to last for an hour.  The panic was coursing through me.  The computer disconnected and I finally had a dial tone.  I dialed 911.  The operator came on and said.  “This is 911. What is your emergency?”  My head was a jumble and my mouth couldn’t speak.

I had this dream before, where I need to talk or scream but nothing comes out.  I could hardly breathe.  “My husband is dying!  He’s not breathing. Oh, god, come soon.  Get here!  He’s dying!” I was screaming and pleading into the phone.  “Ma’am, calm down.  Give me your address,” she said in a firm voice.  “607 E. Poplar Rd.” I blurted out.  “We’ll send someone right away. Stay on the phone with me,” she said.  “No!” I replied.  I hung up the phone and went to help Teresa. 

While Teresa and I tried to give Rick CPR, I said, “Jack, call Aunt Karen.”  He got on the phone.  “Something happened to my dad.  Come, Aunt Karen!  Come now!”  He was crying and jumping up and down in a panic.  “Where are they, Mom?” he said with pleading eyes.  

We lived less than a half mile from the fire station.  Neither of us could hear the sirens.  He grabbed the phone and called 911 again.  “Where are you!?  My dad is dying!” he screamed into the phone.  They kept him talking on the line.

Teresa and I continued to give him CPR.  Rick is dying.  This is it.  I can’t believe that this is how I will lose him. You can’t leave me, Rick.  I am not ready for this.  I don’t want you to die! How can you leave me alone?  I don’t want to do this.

Karen ran in the house.  She grabbed Jack and Michael and went into the den.  I could hear her voice.   “It’s going to be okay.  The ambulance will be here soon.”  There was terror in her voice.  Jack was crying.

Finally, we heard the sirens and the ambulance and fire trucks pulled up on the street.  The man who walked in my house was the sweet, older man, the EMT from our second trip in the ambulance.  He looked at me with his kind eyes and said, “Does he have a Do not resuscitate order?”  “No,” I said.  The two EMTs pulled Rick off the chair and onto the floor and started working on him.  Teresa had come over to me and had her arm around my shoulder.

They were trying to get a line in his veins put couldn’t find one.  He’s going to be a vegetable.  I’m going to have to decide whether or not to pull the plug.  I can’t do this anymore.  I don’t want to do this.  Why didn’t you sign the paper, Rick?

My mind was gone.  I was looking at this but it didn’t seem like I was there.   He’s dead.  This has been too long.  He can’t survive this. Oh, I can’t take anymore!  The EMTs moved Rick’s body to the stretcher and then to the ambulance.  They continued to work on him in the ambulance.

Karen had the boys in the den.  Jack was crying and Michael didn’t really know what was going on.  I walked into the den.  “Go with them," Karen said.  "I’ll bring them to my house and then I’ll follow you to the hospital.”  I turned around to leave and I heard Jack say, “Is it going to be alright?  Is my dad going to be okay?” “Everything’s going to be okay, Jack,” I heard Karen say.

My “motherhood” kicked in.  Oh no!  EVERYTHING’S NOT GOING TO BE OKAY!  I turned around and went back to my baby.  “Come here, Jack,” I took him into the living room and sat on the couch.  I said, “Jack, Dad is probably dead.  I have to go to the hospital with them so the doctor can look at him but Dad is dead, Jack.  It’s going to be okay.  I’ll come to Aunt Karen’s and get you.  Take care of Michael.”  I kissed him and I kissed Michael and then I walked out the front door into the sunshine to the ambulance that was sitting in my driveway and hopped in the front seat.

It was a very long ride to Loudoun Hospital. These people are crazy.  This is an ambulance.  My husband is dead. Get out of the way.  We pulled into the emergency entrance and they backed the ambulance in.  I got out of the truck and the men told me to wait a second.  Nobody moved toward the back of the ambulance.  Then a well-dressed woman came outside and walked toward me.  “Hi, Mrs. Roszel, I’m blah, blah, blah.  Come with me.”

So this is what they do when your husband dies…they bring someone out to “handle” you. I walked with her and she led me down a hall to a door that opened into a small room with two love seats and a chair.  She sat down with me and said, “The doctor will be here in a minute to talk to you.”  He’s dead.  Would someone just tell me he’s dead?  Karen came in and the woman got up and left.

Calmness was settling in on me.  I knew that Rick was gone and I was beginning to feel a great relief.  Rick will not have to suffer anymore.  He will not be in pain anymore.  He will not go to NIH.  He will not have to suffer through a bone-marrow transplant that probably will not work, no more radiation, no more chemo, and no more medications.  Okay, God, I can handle this because he is with You. This is not what I wanted but Rick won’t suffer anymore.

The doctor opened the door and walked in the room.  He introduced himself.  He sat down and said, “Mrs. Roszel, we tried everything that we could but Richard died.”  I looked at him and said, “I know; it’s okay."  Karen was crying very hard.  We held each other and the doctor left. 

We were talking but I don’t remember what we were saying.  Paul was on his way to the hospital and they were trying to find Stephen.  I kept thinking of my babies.  I wanted them.  I wanted to comfort them. I wanted to hold them and not let them go.  We would be okay but there would be a huge hole in our life.

An older priest walked in the door.  I’m Monsignor Kelly, I’m the chaplain here.  I am so sorry for your loss.” “Thank you, Father,” we said.  He came in and sat down and started to chat with us.  A nurse knocked on the door and came in and asked if we wanted to go see Rick.  I said, “Yes.”  Karen wanted to wait for Paul and so I left her with the chaplain.

I was calm.  I want to see him.  I want to be there.  We have shared life every day.  We made a family, two beautiful boys.  I want to see him now in death.  I walked into the area with the curtains surrounding us.  Rick was still.  He was dead.  All I could feel was peace.  This was the first time in months that his body wasn’t racked with pain.  I held his hand and put my head on his chest.  I will miss you, my love.  I didn’t shed a tear.  I was okay.  I kissed his hand and walked back to Karen

Paul came and Stephen finally got the message.  Watching each of them bear the sorrow and grief of their baby brother’s death was hard.  I went into say goodbye to Rick one more time before we left.  Several hours had gone by and Rick’s ear had begun to turn bluish.  I had to keep that picture of him in my mind.  I would go back to it many times in the months and years that lay ahead.  Now, I was going home to my babies.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Weight of the World

I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.  It was the dread of the transplant.  It was the right choice but it was also scary.  I drove home from work and went to Doreen’s to pickup Michael.  He was talking all the way home.  I drove down the hill toward our home and looked at our front yard.  It was a beautiful day; everything was beginning to bloom and there in front of me were Jack and Rick playing catch, each with a glove.  I arrived in the driveway and they waved to me.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Jack was jumping with excitement.  “Watch, Mom!” he smiled and threw Rick the ball. 

Rick was standing with his cane leaning on his hip and threw the ball back to Jack.  “That is awesome, guys!”  I walked over and gave Rick a kiss.  “Hi, sweetie!” he said.  Michael and I sat up on the bench in front of the house and watched them until it was time to go in.   

It was Friday night and Karen called and offered to take the boys for the night.  Jack and Matt had a baseball game the next morning.  We had four days before Rick would leave for NIH for the bone-marrow transplant. Karen picked them up and Rick and I had the house to ourselves.

We were very scared at the thought of what was to come.  Two of my friends from my masters program were bringing dinner. “Rick, they’re coming in a little while.  Why don’t we have them witness you signing the living will and that way it will be behind us?” I asked him.  “Janie, I just don’t want to be seen.  I look so awful.  I’m not up to it,” he replied.  I couldn’t argue with him; it was really his choice and I felt certain that NIH would probably encourage him to take that step next week.

My friends arrived to drop off the meal.  I thanked them and they were on the way.

Ah... a lost chance… Oh, I wish I had convinced him but onward, Jane.

I got the meal together and we ate in the den.  Rick sat in his chair and I was on the end of the hospital bed.  We chatted and finished eating.  I cleaned up and went back to join him.

I sat down on the floor between his feet and put my head in his lap.  He stroked my hair; I started to cry,  “I’m really afraid, Ricky.”  “I know,” he said, “I am too.”  “I don’t want you to go away from me.  Every time you have that chemo, you’re gone.  I’m afraid you won’t come back,” I sobbed.  He leaned over and kissed my head.  “I love you so much and I don’t want to lose you, Rick,” I sobbed.  “It will be okay, Jane. I love you too. We’ll get through it.”  We sat there for a very long time together.
That night we decided to skip the hospital bed and slept in our own bed. It had been months since Rick even walked in our room. It was possible that we wouldn’t be together for a very long time.  Rick was feeling pretty well and was walking with the cane.  I put lots of pillows around his head and under his legs so that he would feel supported.  We both fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

I woke later and I put my hand out and touched the band of his pants.  Yes, he was there.  I turned over and went back to sleep.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Blissful Blessings

They say hindsight is 20/20.  We went through the last year with the subtle pieces to the puzzle, but nothing that smacked us in the face with what this was.  There were dots that appeared but not enough that we could connect  them and know what we were dealing with.

When we went to the Outer Banks in the summer, Rick was body surfing and was thrown by a wave down on his shoulder.  It took a really long time to heal; he thought it was odd.

In September, we were at Karen’s and Paul’s house.  We often watched football with their family; the kids  played and we’d eat our Sunday meal together.  It was a weekly ritual.  During one of these times, Karen was challenging the kids to arm wrestling matches.  Rick began to wrestle his nephew, Bobby who was around 18 at the time.  While they were straining and groaning something popped in Rick’s bicep and hurt.  Bobby won the match which was unheard of; Rick was really injured.

At work, Rick noticed that he couldn’t lift heavy furniture the way he used to.  He was putting up a mattress on the second level of the racks in the warehouse and wrenched his back.

I remember that Rick’s hands had begun to shake quite a bit.  They always shook a little but in the last few months before Christmas, it had gotten much worse.

In hindsight, many people thought it would have been better to have known sooner about Rick’s cancer, not me!  We had a whole year of not knowing he was sick.  We had his birthday and didn’t know it would be his last.  We went to the beach with Karen and Paul and brought back great memories of time spent together.

We went to the Lake in spring and saw the house that my parents built and then went again at the end of summer to stay with them.  It was so awesome.

We would have been robbed of the memories of sleeping as a little family in the upstairs room with no air conditioning, the two boys on futons on the floor and Rick and me in the double bed.  In the middle of night the bed suddenly collapsed on the floor.  We didn’t know what hit us but we were hysterical as we had heard tell-tale stories of the bed before.

We would have missed the storm that later hit the lake; it felt like we were in Kansas with winds whirling and roaring through the trees around the house.  We would not have noticed the green, yellow, blackish sky as we left at 5 a.m. headed for Virginia.

Our opportunity to see Jack play his last season of fall baseball, without the worry of whether it would be Rick’s last season to watch him play, would have been lost.

We celebrated my fortieth birthday, surprise party, ugh and didn't know it would be the last that Rick would be with us.

Our last anniversary was November 24, 1998.  Karen watched the boys for us and we went to Old Town  Alexandria for the weekend and celebrated without knowing any of it.

We had a very special Christmas at our home.  Michael Sean was 3 and so much fun.  He was just at the point of being able to talk nonstop which made it all the more special.  Steve invited us out for the Children’s mass on Christmas Eve: Michael was dressed like a shepherd with a brown towel wrapped around his head and a bathrobe on.  Rick, Jack and I sat with Paul’s family and enjoyed every minute of watching him up there.  These were precious times that no one could take from us.

New Year’s Eve was spent at home with the boys and our nephew, Matt came over to hang with us.  We all wore party hats, used noise makers, ate special snacks and drank sparkling cider from fancy stemware.  I was very happy that none of this was taken from us.

Once Rick was diagnosed and our world was turned upside down, it was hard to be anything but serious.  In the tense times, it was Jack's and Michael's sweetness through it all that helped us go on.  We needed them there to put a smile on our faces and know we were blessed to have them, despite anything else.

IGNORANCE WAS BLISS!  We got to have Rick for a whole year without knowing a darn thing was wrong with our life.  WE WERE BLESSED!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Freaked Out

About a year and half after our first son, Jack, was born, Rick went to a Redskins football game.  His friend, John went with him; they took the Metro into the stadium at RFK.  I didn’t mind; Jack went to sleep early and I had started a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.  I had the game on and it was over around 9:30 p.m.  I was making great progress on the puzzle.

At around 11:00 o’clock, I decided to go into bed, thinking Rick would be home soon.  I went to sleep and was startled when I woke up and happened to look at the clock.  It was 1:00 in the morning.  Oh my god!  He’s dead.  I’ll be a widow!  He's dead.  Don't be dead, Rick.  I headed toward the closet and got my clothes on; I wanted to be dressed for the police when they came to the door.

My heart was beating like crazy.  I walked out to the dining room and started pacing.  I sat down and put a few pieces in the puzzle and then, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I decided to call Steve; he went to the game.  He had season tickets; if he wasn’t home then maybe Rick was okay.

I dialed the rectory at 1:30.  A groggy Steve answered the phone.  “Steve, it’s Jane.  What time did you get home from the game?” I asked.  “It was a little after ten.  Why?  What’s going on?” he asked.  “Um, Rick went to the game with John and he’s not home; I’m a little freaked out.” I replied, trying not to cry.  He said, “I had a parking pass and didn't take Metro; it’s much faster.  I’m sure he’ll be home soon.”  I thanked him and hung up.  I went back to the puzzle.

I have an 18 month old baby and now, I’ll be a widow.  Please don’t be dead. Please don’t be dead!  Do the puzzle, Jane.  He’ll be home soon.  I worked on the puzzle and cried and wiped my tears.

At 2:30 I heard the keys in the door; I just sat there.  “You’re up,” he said.  I looked at him; my nose was red and the tears were streaming down my face.  “What’s wrong?” he said as he came near the table. 

“You have no idea what you put me through,” I said very calmly.  “I can’t even speak to you.”  I got up and walked into the bedroom.  He followed me.

“Janie, I’m sorry,” he said.  “John and I went out to breakfast and time got away from us while we were talking.”  “You couldn’t call?” I managed to say.  “I didn’t want to wake you and the baby,” he explained.

“Rick, I thought you were dead!  I got up and got dressed to wait for the police to come tell me,” I sobbed. “Oh gosh, Janie, I’m so sorry,” he hugged me to him and I cried and cried.

“Rick, you know my father died in a car accident; I couldn’t take it if you died. These things happen to people. Next time, wake me up.”

Friday, February 11, 2011


I don't remember death being scary to me when I was little.  I remember describing heaven to my parents when I was about four.  We were on their bed and I was telling them how God had wheelchairs and crutches for the people who had died and were in heaven.  They were all pleasant thoughts.  I could see my daddy there.

Sometime after that, Nanny, my father's mom, dragged me all over Yonkers and the Bronx to get to some Italian funeral home.  It was the summer and it was hot; she had me in a dress.  We walked up the steps into the building; I was getting a creepy feeling.  It was too quiet and there was an organ playing soft music.  She was talking to some men in black suits; there weren't that many people there.  They were old and wearing black.

Next thing I knew, I was kneeling on a kneel-er, staring at some old dead guy in a box.  He was waxy-looking and frightening.  Nanny blessed herself with her rosary beads, got me up and then walked out of the building.  She bought me a hot dog from a street vendor and I think we went to visit an older relative;  I don't remember it all but the face of that man was branded in my memory for life.

My family lived in Cortland, NY, population; 25,000.  We attended Catholic school.  With eight children in our family; we didn't go anywhere and we didn't do much of anything as a family outside of our house, our backyard, or the lake.  All of our relatives lived around New York City. We didn't get many invitations to visit.

We weren't related to anyone in town. My parents didn't know too many people beyond the few neighbors that surrounded our house.  Whenever anyone died in the family, my father would go down to the city for the services. When we were older, my parents would take the"little guys" (four youngest) and the "big guys" (four oldest) stayed home under my sister's supervision.  This worked for me because I had no desire to go see more dead people.

At school, there was a funeral home next to the building. My class had front row seats to the pain and suffering of almost every family in Cortland.  The limos and hearse would drive up just outside the windows of the classroom.  We'd watch them go in and we'd watch them go out, all in a day at school.  On special occasions when it was someone who was connected to the school in some way, several classes of students might walk over to the church for the funeral service.

When it was a student or a member of a student's immediate family that died, the whole class would go to the calling hours during school.  I prayed almost daily that no one in my class would die; I was avoiding dead people at all costs.

Two students in my eighth grade class had parents who died during the school year.  Our class was invited to attend the calling hours.  You can be assured those were two days of school I missed, no dead people for me!

I had friends who grew up in town, whose families had lived there for generations; they were all big funeral people.  Not only were they funeral people, they would have to go over to the rectory and get a mass card for the family.  My family didn't know anyone so it wasn't part of what we did but I was amazed to see how well-versed my young friends were in "death".

I managed to make it all the way to the age of 26 without ever laying eyes on another dead person.  My grandmother had really done a number on me.  One month before our wedding, Rick’s grandfather died suddenly at 96.  

I decided that an engaged, twenty-six year old should face her fear and go to the ceremony with Rick's family.  It was an interesting trip.  We arrived and stayed with Rick's, Aunt Mary.  The calling hours were that night at the local funeral home.  We all trudged over and I was doing fine.  Hurray! I could face a dead person and not totally freak out; this was progress for me.  However, I wasn't prepared for what happened next.

My brother in-law, Steve began saying the prayers to close the calling hours and then it was time to leave.  Rick's grandmother, Grammy Gagnon, literally, threw herself on top of her husband in the casket and yelled, "Don't take him from me.  I can't say goodbye to my best friend.  How can I say goodbye?  I don't want you to go," she begged and sobbed.

I was a wreck!  I hadn't bargained for this.  All of a sudden I could see clearly into my mother's pain of losing my father.  Now, I could see clearly into what would happen if Rick died.  I had never felt vulnerable to death. Being engaged, I had everything to lose.  I wasn't prepared for this. I was so focused on not seeing dead bodies; I didn’t see how the real loss of a loved one would affect me.  I couldn't stop crying.

The next day at the funeral, Rick and his brothers were pall bearers.  I drove in the limo with my mother in-law and sister in-law, Suzy.  When we were going into the pew during the procession, I somehow ended up sitting in between my mother in-law and her grieving mother.  I was a basket-case.  I was so overwrought with my emotions;  I was a blubbering idiot.  I couldn't catch my breath and I didn't have enough tissues for the occasion. The fear continued to build in me all the way up to our wedding day and after.

Four months after we were married, Rick had a blocked sinus.  He had numerous sinus infections and a deviated septum; the doctor had decided to operate.  Rick went into surgery and after about three hours the doctor came out to speak to me.  He was doing fine.  They would call me when they were ready to have me bring the car around.

I waited at least three more hours and then the nurse called my name at the desk and asked me to come speak to the nurse on the phone.  She told me that Rick was having a hard time waking up and asked me to come help him get dressed.

I went to the post-op area and they brought me to Rick. There, he lay on the gurney looking like a corpse.  I was totally freaked out.  I started to cry. The nurse said I needed to dress him to get him ready to go home.  Now, the wise woman would have told that nurse she was crazy that he was not going home and needed to be admitted but I was out of my league.   This was my first dealing with someone having surgery.  I didn't know this was wrong.

I managed to get him dressed.  Somehow, they put him in a wheelchair and got him to the car; it was a rough ride.  All the way home, I could see what I couldn't get out of my head;. Rick would be like that when he died.  I was already dreading the day and I didn't want that day to ever come.