Tag Archives: death

Rest in Peace, Mom

My mom died on Sunday, February 7.  It has been two years of watching this wonderful strong woman decline and succumb to dementia and years worth of health struggles.   My heart has broken many times this past year starting with Larry’s death, but being able to do really nothing except keep her comfortable this past year has killed a part of me that will never come back.  She was never the same woman she was after the surgery she had in January 2019, in which something triggered and broke something inside her.  I not only had to watch as my husband struggled and fought to live in 2019, I was there while my mom seemingly forgot how to do that.

She isn’t summed up by what she became these last two years, and I won’t let that be what colors my love and memories of her.  Just like Larry, I won’t let what their end was be all that defines them for me.   She was my mom, someone who I loved and someone who will forever be that person that was always in my corner and loved me and supported me.   She was that woman who when I came out to her in my late 20s immediately embraced me and let me know nothing had changed.  She only ever wanted what was best for me and did everything she could to help make that happen.   I tried to return that love and care in the later years, after Harv died, and I hope I was able to.

I know that after Harv’s death, it was not the same for her.   The love of her life had gone, and now it was up to her to rebuild something new.  At 65, that isn’t the easiest thing to do.   But she did, and she joined Silver Sneakers at the YMCA and made some friends.  I was so proud of her to not only get out there and exercise, but to be social and just find something new.

Growing up, she was such an instrumental force in me becoming who I am.   Her hobbies became mine:  reading, watching musicals (Cabaret!  Sound of Music!) and sappy movies (Somewhere in Time! International Velvet!), music, drawing, studies…. These were all formative things that still drive me and provide me some kind of comfort.  And she provided this for me while going through a divorce, moving us out back to Southern California, staying with family to get back on her feet, and doing everything she could to make sure we’d be okay.  She ended up meeting Harv and they fell in love, and eventually they married and I had a stepdad and step-siblings and more.   I now had a ‘staircase’-sister, Stacie, who became just sister over the last 35+ years.  Mom and Harv built a life, found their own successes and were able to build a home together in Monrovia, where I got to grow up and thrive with friends I still have to this day from MHS.   They ended up able to finally buy a home in Duarte, which just 10 years before would have seemed impossible.

Mom had a hard childhood but managed to fight for a bright adulthood.  Full of ups and downs, it was a good life for many years.   I hate that her body and mind betrayed her in the end, and that these last two years are what happened to her.   I’d say it’s not fair, and I mean that, but I also know the concept of fairness is stupid to apply here.   But I have a lot of anger and sadness at the way this all happened at once, and I’ll have to learn to let go of that over time.  I’ve lost my husband and mom in the course of a year, and I can’t help but feel sadness, anger, occasional despair and enormous resentment at what life has turned into lately.

Those feelings are for another post, but they’re part of this.  Just not the only part.   I loved my mom, I know she loved me, and I miss her so fucking terribly.  I’ve missed her for two years to be honest, but knowing it’s final just hurts in a different way.  I can only hope she’s reunited with Harv in some way and maybe even is able to send my love to Larry.

I know where she wanted to be laid to rest and that will come in the next few months.  I’m not sure what I’m doing about a memorial just yet as this COVID nightmare makes things a whole lot more challenging.

I love you, Mom, and I hope you’re finally at peace.   Of anyone, you deserve so much of that.

A Hole in the World

2 weeks ago, my best friend and my husband, Larry Levene, died.   After 18 months of battling Stage 4 colorectal cancer, he no longer had any more treatment options as the cancer was winning.

In the beginning of 2019, we had gone to the next stage of treatment after his first 6 months of chemotherapy, which had gone well actually with the cancer markers getting drastically reduced.  You can’t keep doing that same treatment though as the oxalyplatin in the chemo wrecks your body and causes neuropathy, which Larry definitely had.  But Zolota, the next drug you take, typically helps.  But with Larry, it was clear it wasn’t helping as his markers were creeping back up.

We continued on through May or June of doing what we could, but Dr Arzoo indicated that there was no more standard treatment available.   So we went to various other places to see what they thought.  We went to City of Hope and the doctor there basically said there really wasn’t much he could do for us as the cancer wasn’t relenting.  That was a bad day in June.  We then investigated options at Sloan Kettering in NYC, and they had an ambitious plan which Larry was a candidate for.  We’d install a hepatic pump that would pump 50x the amount of chemo right to his liver, with minimal side effects.   So we did that in August and September, but he had to stop any other chemo he was doing and he also had to recover from his surgery, which was quite invasive.  But what should have been a way to keep him stable for a few years, time for us to hope for something stronger to be developed, didn’t work.  After the first two treatments with the pump, there was no improvement.  At all.  City of Hope was where we were continuing treatment and the doctor there basically indicated that is all that could be done.

Frantic and hopeful for a miracle, we went back to Arzoo at UCLA for guidance.  He guided us to a phase 1 clinical trial that UCLA was trying.  After about 10 days on the trial, Larry had to go to the ICU as his abdomen was swelling and his liver was failing.   At the ICU, we learned the fight was over.   We took Larry home, got hospice care, and took care of him as he grew weaker and weaker, finally unable to stand or keep awake or have control of his bodily functions, and in the early morning of January 7, 2020, his strong heart finally gave up.

Just typing this overwhelms me with sadness, anger, and grief.  We all die, but Larry was too young to have to be thinking about cancer and one that was so highly aggressive.  He was only 43 when he was diagnosed – the approved age for colonoscopies in men is just recently set to 45.  Not only was he diagnosed, it was Stage 4 as it had metastasized to his liver.  We realize now that we needed a miracle for him to survive; what the treatments did do was at least give him 18 months, but without a miracle, the current treatments just aren’t enough.  We don’t know why he got this cancer.  Was it something he ate?  Something he breathed in?   Who knows.   It wasn’t genetic.  He just had the world’s worst luck, and the world now has a hole in it where he should be.  I can’t tell you how sad and alone I feel.  I miss him so god damned much it hurts.  I look at his stuff or something he wrote and it wrecks me.   It feels impossible to consider what purpose my life has at this point.  I was happy having him as my guy.   We had our life and we were happy.   I don’t want to be single and alone.  I guess I foolishly thought if we worked together and made our marriage a good one, everything else would work out.   But no, apparently fate has it that I should be alone.  My mom is no longer my mom, my dad has said I am released from being his son, my husband and best friend is dead, so all in all, it’s been a fucking hell of a year.  It’s not all bad I guess – my friends have proven to be the support I need, as well as Larry’s family, so I’m thankful for that as there’s no way I’d have made it this past year without them.  But it all just seems so fucking wrong.   He should not be dead.

I maintained a journal the last month and a half.  I’m going to update my site with those posts, so you’re not crazy if you thought I’d not been posting anything.  I hadn’t.

Below is the obituary that ran in the LA Times yesterday (Jan 19).   I loved the picture I submitted for this, and I bought 3 copies of the paper.  I plan on assembling memories of him into a box that I can dive into, and that paper will be one of the things in it.

Rest in peace, my love.   I take comfort that your suffering, as unfair as it was, is now over.

Laying Larry to Rest in New Jersey

On Wednesday, we arrived in New Jersey and got back to Fran and Joel’s apartment, all of us exhausted.  We were hungry though and made it over to Cafe Italiano just up the road, where David, Donna, and Brad met up with us for dinner.  It was obviously hard to see people now in person but it was also good that Fran’s family was all there for her.  I managed to invite myself to the Burger Bash in Miami though, as I know I just need to make myself get out of the house over this next year, and it’s an event that Larry and I kept talking about doing and never did.  I’ll hold him in my heart when this happens.  Didn’t sleep well that night, as while the couch there is better than that weird daybed in Joel’s office, it’s still not my bed.  I made plans to spend the next few nights at various places as I couldn’t bear to be at Fran’s the entire time.

I took some pictures from the plane that I think Larry would have enjoyed:

So on Thursday, we had the morning together; spoke to the rabbi who was speaking at the funeral so she’d have some facts to talk about regarding Larry, and then Fran went to a hairdresser to get her hair back to what she expects it to be — Jon and Alyssa picked me up in the early afternoon as I was spending the night at their house that day.   Nicki and Sveta were flying in this day too.   It was nice to spend time with Jon & Alyssa – they swung by Wendy’s to let me get some lunch, and then we headed back to their gorgeous house in Livingston for the evening.  It was obviously very hard to see Alyssa in person – she’d seen Larry shortly before his death, and it was hard.  We all have the relief he’s not suffering anymore, but still, Larry was her brother and she’s now lost him.  Their daughters Rachel and Stacey were picked up from school, Nicki and Sveta landed and headed over there, and we ordered dinner for all of us to have.  Did drink a few too many glasses of red wine, but that’s what you do when you’re paying tribute to your loved one; Looked through a ton of pictures that night too, and Jon ended up printing out a lot so that there were 3 poster boards of pictures commemorating various points of Larry’s life.  Alyssa and Jon were going to host the shiva the next day after the funeral, and wanted to have some visuals for people to look at along with the printed out pictures and albums we collected.  Slept that night in their guest room in the lower level of the house, and while much more comfortable than a couch, it was still difficult to sleep.   It was mostly from knowing that the next day we were going to bury Larry.

Friday was the day we all were bracing for and hoping to get through.  Woke up and had some breakfast, and then got ready.  I wore my suit from the wedding – I had given Larry’s suit from the wedding for him to wear in the casket.  They covered up all the mirrors in the house for shiva.  I then rode with Jon, Alyssa, and Harlan to the cemetery, while Leslie stayed behind to watch Rachel and Stacey and also be there for the caterers.  Pulling into the cemetery was hard, and to then walk around the foyer and realize it was really happening was surreal.  We were there early, and Fran and Joel joined us shortly.  After that, the stream of people steadily continued and a lot of greetings and condolences were made.  My friends made it, as did some of the team from PwC (Gabriela, Gracie, and Aleshka), which helped me a lot as many of the people there were family and friends.  Finally, the service was to begin and the attendees all sat, afterward the immediate family walked in to the front pew.  Larry’s casket was there up front, and that’s when I kind of had to catch my breath.  Not an open casket, but still, that’s where his body was.   After the rabbi had some opening prayers and remarks and songs, three of us spoke.  I went first.  I had written a eulogy so that I wouldn’t ramble as I knew ahead of time if I hadn’t it would have been a mess.   I like what I wrote, and I will post that somewhere if I do end up transferring this journal to my site.  I balanced my thoughts between sadness, anger, regret, and love.

I’m here to bury my love, my husband, my Larry.

I do this with sadness – thinking of all the things he won’t be able to do because cancer cut his life so tragically short.  All the things we won’t be able to celebrate or enjoy as a married couple, because of a disastrous aggressive disease.

I bury him with anger – I resent the fact that he wasn’t one of the lucky ones to beat cancer.  It’s not rational to feel this way and I understand that, but I am angry at what I’ve lost, what his family and friends have lost, and what the world has lost.

I lay him to rest with relief – Larry fought so hard over these past 18 months.  He was heroic, and he was brave beyond anything I could ever imagine – the pain and discomfort the chemotherapy brought on him didn’t keep him from wanting to fight and persist against cancer.  But it wore him down, and as the neuropathy side effects ravaged his fingers and toes, they took away his passions like his ability to run and the confidence to work with his hands; he also lost the satisfaction of enjoying food, which hit him hard emotionally as cooking was something he truly loved.  Larry was worn down.  The last 3 months of his life were some of the toughest ever, and to just be a witness and help him through it broke me, yet Larry was the one who kept going. Even with close to no treatment option remaining, he still said let’s go forward.  Larry was my hero, but he’s now finally free from his suffering.

I say goodbye with love – Larry was the one I’d been hoping was out there for me.  I was the lucky one who found him – and I think it was almost immediate I knew he was my true love.  Larry expanded my life in many ways that have changed me for the better and I hope to continue living in a way that would make Larry proud.  But with his passing, my heart is completely broken today, and it’s hard to consider a future without him.  But I know Larry wouldn’t want me, or any of us, to give up.  So it’ll be a day by day process – and each day, I’ll continue to celebrate and remember the memories we made together, with friends and with family.

Thank you for being here, and please just embrace those in your life and appreciate what we have.  Nothing is guaranteed, and when there’s love out there, celebrate it.  I love you Larry, and will miss you.

I made it through but it was difficult and I know I wasn’t able to keep my emotions in check.  Joel spoke after I did, and it was a lovely speech about Larry’s life and his relationships with his family.   Alyssa spoke last, lamenting the loss of her brother.  The rabbi concluded the service with more prayers and a small recap of some of the events in Larry’s life.  It was nice but also just felt like an incomplete accounting of it, but what else can you do.  We then all went to the cars to drive to the graveside.  It was there that it actually ended up being the hardest part for me, as that’s when Larry’s coffin was lowered into the ground.  Prayers followed along with a ceremonial act of attendees shoveling dirt into the grave.  That part broke me.

Note that in the Jewish tradition, the gravestone reveal is done at a much later date, about 6-9 months after the burial.  At that time, possibly around September of 2020, we’ll return and I will have a better picture of my love’s final resting place.  I just couldn’t bear to take a picture of the casket or the still-unfilled grave.  Today wasn’t a day that I felt like taking pictures as most of the events will be seared into my brain.

After that, there was a slow trickle of people leaving to head towards Alyssa and Jon’s.  I went back to the gravesite a little, but by then it was already that the funeral team were filling the grave completely.  It felt odd to stand there.  We then drove back to their house and began the shiva.  It was a much needed second half of the day.  It was just everyone eating, drinking, and comforting each other.   A lot of laughs and videos, and I was very appreciative of all the love that was in the air.    So relieved to have Nicki and Sveta there as well, as I needed my friends there too.  Not really easy to recap that except to say it was lovely, I cried a lot, and Larry hopefully felt all the love and care that so many family and friends had for him.  I didn’t take any pictures of folks except for one video, which I kind of regret now (writing on Jan 31, 2020). Although Jon had created some photo collages which were hung on the walls and I took pictures of those as they’re amazing:

Nicki and Sveta and I went to dinner ourselves at Sweet Basil, a nearby restaurant, as I wanted time alone with them and away from the main group.  That night I had also booked a room at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Teaneck that Nicki and Sveta were both staying at, again, as I just needed a break from the grieving of the family.   I know that both Fran and I are going to have a long process ahead of us – but I will honestly say that we are each going to need some space to grieve.  It was a nice hotel, and we spent some time hanging out but all realized it had been a long day and we needed to crash.  What we did come up with though was a plan to go into NYC in the morning and spend a few hours there as Sveta had never been!

A hotel bed was more comfortable, and I think I did sleep, but still, it’s very hard to deal with the fact that Larry is truly gone.  It’s been that way, truly, for at least a month considering how much he was suffering, but still, there’s no more knowing he’s downstairs or might crack a smile even while miserable.  It’s over.

This Kinda Helps, To Be Honest

http://lifehacker.com/youre-going-to-die-heres-how-to-deal-with-it-1791498957

Morbid as fuck, I know.  But still, I do sometimes let myself get caught having trouble falling asleep when I think about it.  But as someone in the comments of this Lifehacker article or maybe in the article itself points out, we weren’t really here before being born, so it’ll be going back to that experience after we die.  So we’ve already been there.  It’s kind of reassuring.  I don’t really believe in an afterlife, and even when I’ve hoped that something like that is there, thinking of ETERNITY just sounds exhausting.  So guess what, time to live life and make the most of it.  And that’s what I’ve got in my mind with regards to certain things hopefully coming down the pike.

Okay, can’t leave things just all focused on THAT…so here’s by far the best GIF of Winona Ryder at the SAG awards during Stranger Things acceptance speech:

Thoughts on my StaircaseDad

As you may or may not know by now, my stepdad Harv died this past Friday, June 28, 2013.  This post is by no means a eulogy for Harv, but it certainly illustrates what is currently going on in my head as I make heads or tails of it.

I am still in shock at how sudden his death was.  Complete shock, and I think that’s the part that has made this so difficult.  He was enjoying a few days at Rincon casino with my mom and less than a day later, his body failed and he died.  How does that even happen?  But I have nothing but respect for the fact that Harv managed to live his 80 years in a way where he was still enjoying a good beer, a glass of wine, and a seat at the slot machine under his own control.   Can you begrudge a life lived that way when he was still having the time of his life?  I think we all would like to imagine passing away sweetly in our sleep, but that’s probably going to be granted to only a mere fraction of us.  Harv’s death was quick and it avoided a slow, painful and potentially costly process.  So while I still can’t deal with the reality of this situation just yet, I am well aware that there was very little suffering, for which I know I am grateful.

Harv leaves behind a family that is very large, as he had not only an extensive Beaman clan of which he was extremely loved, but also all the Sperskes, Barnes, and friends he’s made throughout the years.  It will take some time to really deal with his loss but there is so much support and love out there I know we will all help each other through it.

BTW, I know, I know, what’s a StaircaseDad?  Well, one year for my birthday, a long long time ago, Harv got me a card and signed it with a drawing of a three-stair staircase next to the word dad.  I was utterly perplexed.  What’s a Staircase Dad?  I think my mom may have been worried I was mentally challenged.  Yeah, I wasn’t considering the rebus was indicating StepDad.  Ugh, I can be the worst some times!  🙂