I’m seeing ghosts..

Making my way through town I have always seen ghosts. Ghosts of incidents past rattling through my brain like an unwanted house guest! You know, wearing your wife’s robe and your slippers while they drink what’s left of the milk you needed for your morning cereal.  I have written about “them” these ghosts before, remnants of some of the worst things I have seen or participated in during my career. Who they were or are, how they have affected my current reality, and my inability to let them stay, well quite simply “dead”.

Last night I went to Vacaville to pick up tickets for a popular movie two hours early so the kids and I could go see it. Now if you know me well enough, then no need to ponder the movie. The answer is elementary.

Arriving at the theater, it is very obvious the movies are the place to be after Christmas, as the lot was full and I needed to park a block away. Walking up to order tickets a very polite young man behind the glass informed me they were in fact sold out for the night. Hands in my pockets while retreating to my car I heard a couple talking about heading to Winco after the movies.

Then it began.

I looked across the freeway, Winco hides on the other side and it dawned on me that Thursday was our Winco night. I could see her walking through the aisles, grabbing things and placing them close to her face so she could make them out, never ever wanting help unless she absolutely needed it because that tore away at her independence. We would slowly make our way from aisle to aisle and I remember that as much as I hated shopping ( I am a speed shopper, I know what I need and I haul ass outta there) watching the wonderment she held to each and every item she placed near her face always made me smile. It was like watching a child, or someone who had been in a coma for 30 years and just couldn’t believe all the amazing things that now existed! Winco was always a 2 hour affair and at that very moment I couldn’t believe how much I longed to go shopping with my frail, blind wife, spending those two hours together making our way up and down each and every aisle while she beamed with delight, thanking me over and over again for taking her.

UGH!

Vowing to never take another step inside Winco, I slid into the seat of my car and texted the kids; the movie is a no go, sold out, headed home. Then as I got on the freeway and began passing the Nut Tree area it was as if every single place we ever visited from the beginning of our marriage had a giant neon sign over the top of it flashing, brightly screaming that we had fun over there, we had date night right here, do you remember the time that this happened in this street and how you both rolled around laughing for hours!!! I tried to take it as good memories, something I should be so happy about, but instead it just created a bigger void, a tunnel of darkness that began enveloping me from the inside out! I couldn’t drive fast enough to get away, the signs wouldn’t stop flashing, I started breathing really hard and my chest hurt, I began sweating and I couldn’t focus.

Then out of nowhere!

That’s right out of nowhere I found myself in the Kaiser Hospital parking lot. I was parked in my normal spot. Yeah after you have been there a while you kind of pick a row and park there out of habit. Walking towards the building I had my hoodie pulled tightly down over my brow. I must have looked like the grim reaper as I made my way into the building. Stopping at the pharmacy I stared inside for a few minutes, reciting her medical record number then turning to make my way to the fourth floor. Exiting the stairwell I walked slowly down the hall, talking to her as I always had about how long she would be, did she want me to stay, cause I would stay and watch tv with her, should I go and get chores done, is there anything she needed me to pick up for her in Vacaville? All the right questions, praying I would hear an answer. Knowing there was none to be had.

Oncology, I stood in the threshold for a minute or two, still not quite understanding why I was there; then seeing the television was still on I sat down in the same chair I would always inhabit.

And there it was, right there for me to feel, my wife.

It was as if Jacy was sitting in her wheelchair right alongside me, I could feel her, she was talking to me, we had a long conversation about meds, her health and what lay in store. I eventually snapped from the same old topics we discussed and told her how much I missed her, how very lonely I am, how she was the very best thing that ever happened in my life and I don’t like not knowing what is in store for us without her. I told her I loved her so much and how I missed the touch of her hand. I asked her if she was ok. She just smiled, looking at me with her big beautiful eyes and said it was time to go. I asked her to please not go, don’t leave me again, she said; James, its time for my treatment and turned towards the door. She was gone.

And just like that I was back, alone in the very waiting room I had spent countless hours watching other people struggle with cancer while we were waiting for treatment.  

Walking down the hallway towards the stairwell, again slowly, hands in my pockets, hoodie still pulled down tight I felt heavy. No wheel chair to push, no bags to carry, no oxygen bottle to adjust, no wife whose shoulders needed rubbing, no best friend to reassure this was temporary, she wasn’t going to die, she was Jacy Franceschi, the toughest, most badass woman I have ever known and no amount of drugs or disease could possibly kill her.

I lied.

You can’t possibly know how that feels. To have lied.

She knew the risks, she knew what the outcome could be, she knew it all and she did her best each and every day for her family.

I still lied because I loved her.

I see ghosts everywhere I go, they don’t prepare you for that when you become a firefighter, but over time you develop the coping skills to understand it, to deal with it, to accept it when they arise.

No one can prepare you for the ghost being the one you loved more than anything on this earth.

No one….

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Two months

Coming down the stairs every morning I have come to realize that about the time I hit the coffee pot I am no longer looking into jacy’s room, no longer searching for her or wondering why I haven’t heard her voice speaking my name.

That’s right, apparently I have gotten used to Jacy not being here, waiting patiently for me to have coffee with her while listening to the plethora of ideas she’d come up with during the night. I miss that, I really do miss hearing all her crazy ideas as I try my best to focus and sip that oh so important first cup of jo. The emptiness is very real.

Then I began to feel bad. Really bad..

Had 17 years of togetherness just disappeared in two months? I mean it will have been two months tomorrow since she passed away. Two long, lonely and I mean so fucking lonely months without my best friend. I am listening to recordings she made just so I can hear her voice. Sometimes it is what I need, other times it is an emotional train wreck and then there are times I talk back to it, hoping she can respond, even though I know she can’t.

I know the answer so don’t bother telling me and nothing has changed so whatever. If anything, absence has made the heart grow even fonder if that is even fathomable. But man, what a thing to live with an absence that can never be filled. Working on my book has left me reliving every single moment from the last five years and with that comes tons of tears. I promised her I would take care of her, I promised her I would look out for her, she trusted me so much and I was the voice she wanted to hear when things went south. Reliving the times she cried and wanted to quit, the times she cried and told me she was fighting for me, for us, for our family, the times she would call me sobbing that it was more than she could take and then it two seconds she would swallow it down and put on a positive face for whoever was walking through the hospital room door. Some days it is more than a man can take.

After reading the last five years over and over and over again, even though it hurts like hell, and nonetheless it would be easy to blame myself for not doing a good enough job. I do know I James Franceschi, her husband kept my word. I know that with every fiber of my being! I loved that woman with my whole heart, I stood by her side and I did the very best I could have done under the circumstances. I am so glad I chronicled the entire journey as without it being time stamped and dated, without precise recollections written down in the moment, it would be so easy for me to continue beating up on myself for the last 5 or 6 months when things became the hardest, and I have, but now I am not. Well I am not as much as I was previously.

When I do its over simple things that anyone or at least I think anyone in the same situation would second guess themselves for, like; I should have carried her upstairs that last month when she told me it was her sole dream to sleep in our bed again. I was terrified to for many reasons and I won’t get into them here but suffice it to say the stairs alone at my house would have killed us both. I still wish I had said I love you a hundred more times, and even if I had I would wish for a hundred more, it was the least I could have done for this amazing woman I was lucky enough to call my wife.  I still wish I wasn’t so tired all the time, that I had super human strength so I could have been more patient during the last 30 days. But even with all of that, the one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that I did the very best I could. I loved her with all of my heart and I never gave up on her. EVER! This woman was my angel, she was my everything, my best friend and it is so very quiet here without her in this house, on this ranch.

They say it’s till death do us part. Huh? What am I supposed to do with that? Should I just chuck my ring as if nothing ever happened?  My love for her is strong and my wedding ring is still planted firmly on my hand. I am not sure that’s right, I’m not sure what I am supposed to do or how I am supposed to do it. You think I would after playing this horrible game once before, but I don’t!! I guess I’ll figure it out as I go, but I sure wish she was here to help me along with good advice, hugs and a smile.

I wonder if this world we live in is really the hell we all know or have been taught to know. As if there is no fiery hole where the damned retire. No sir! It is here, out in the open and we are living in it! Because this is our reality we all need to earn our way into heaven through actions and deeds, but we must suffer first the way Jesus suffered for our sins. How else do explain all the good people who die and the world is filled with what remains? Anyone?

The thing is, I know I have been blessed. I feel her with me, by my side, and at the weirdest of times. I feel her heart pumping inside mine and can smell her perfume coming from nowhere. I am pretty sure she was needed elsewhere, and I know in true Jacy fashion she is running the show, making everyone laugh and showing you just how special you really are or need to believe that you can become. That was her gift to us all. It definitely was the greatest gift she ever gave me besides our family.

I just selfishly wish she was still with me, radiating her warmth in our room, the one I no longer look into out of habit, because it is cold and so very quiet. So very quiet indeed……

I have become afraid.

I over think things, I really do. I try my hardest not too, but I am the guy who lays in bed all night long thinking, and thinking, and thinking, until I pass out! Of course then I wake up in the morning and start thinking about whatever the hell it is I was thinking about before I went to bed and thus the process starts all over again! Phew, I had to think about that for a minute..

So here is my problem.

When I think about Jacy, most of the time I no longer see her in my mind sick, in pain and getting weaker by the day. My brain for some reason has me grieving our life prior to Leukemia. You know, she is a mom, I am a doting husband, we date twice a week, have rodeo, Criners arena, Sugarland and lots of bbq’s with friends. Also on the flip side my brain is inundating me with Stanford visits and Kaiser Hospital runs/rituals acquired over the last 5 years. So that seems pretty confusing doesn’t it?

Let me rephrase or clarify the upper statement.

It has come to my attention that if I am in a crowd, or shopping, or any place there are people, I begin remembering moments from another time and Jacy being with me, or have memories of us doing things together in conjunction with “whatever” activity I am participating. She is healthy, and so damn beautiful and it crushes whatever spirit I had towards the activity I am trying my hardest to participate in! I begin looking for her desperately in the eyes of every woman that passes by me, every woman with her back to me, I search and search and I can’t find her in the crowd so my heart rate goes up, then I can’t breathe, I am afraid and just when things seem like they couldn’t get any worse they do! I find myself running for cover trying to hide so no one can see I am falling apart on the inside! Then it just happens, and I can’t stop it! I cry.

Crying is absolutely ok. I am rational enough to know that, but I don’t want the attention. I simply want to do so without anyone checking on me and when you are in a large crowd with nowhere to hide that simply is not possible. So I try swallowing it down, hard, which just makes it worse. Because as the tide comes and goes, if the waves are held back to long eventually one massive wave will break onto the shore.

Yeah picture that! So fun.

My face hurts, my chest hurts, I swear my heart is going to explode, I start sweating, I can’t breathe and then it happens, over and over again, her face flashes, events flash, her smile, her kiss, her hand in mine, I can’t fucking take it!!! I can’t see her and my head starts spinning!! Then just like that, it’s gone. She is gone and it’s like someone lifted it all off my shoulders, until something else sets it off and it starts all over again.

I went to Nevada City today to celebrate Christmas with my son since I really haven’t been feeling it at all. I was excited, he was excited; we walked past the entry sign and into the crowd. The deeper we went I felt the tightening in my chest. I began searching. For her…

Parker shopped away as one woman after another passed me and although no one even remotely looked like my wife there was something, some kind of resemblance; a dress, the shoes, the way she walked, a smile. Stupid really, but it only furthered my need to find Jacy! I become irrational, saying things to myself like; She would have loved this place, the smells, the people, oh my, she would have been talking to every stranger she could in every shop or booth! I knew she just simply had to be there! She couldn’t be dead there is no way my wife, the strongest fucking person I have ever known could be FUCKING DEAD!!! WHAT THE FUCK!!!!

Turning the corner looking for a place to run and there in the window of a shop is a pair of shoes. Not just any pair of shoes, but clogs, her favorite and they were decorated and colored and she would have loved them and I would have bought them for her for Christmas because we loved Christmas, and church and Christmas eve pajamas and snow balling our friends and FUCK, FUCK, FUCKITY, FUCK!!!!

But see it doesn’t get better either.

The second part is when I am driving. That’s when I run through five years of hospital rituals, three years of Stanford Hospital rituals. Sneaking her hamburgers when she wasn’t supposed to eat them. Playing words with friends for hours, watching Survivor, quite literally ever single season-twice. Spending all those moments together with machines beeping and nurses coming and going and holding her hand through it all. Listening intently and calming her down as she tells me to please murder the next nurse that puts her on bed alarm! Telling her I loved her a hundred million times, not because I had too, or was afraid she wouldn’t know but because I wanted too. The way when you are first in love and you say those words it feels magical. Yeah like that, every time. Even when things weren’t going well. That’s the way it felt for me. I haven’t heard those words back for 50 days now. It is killing me inside.

I had to go to Kaiser the other day for me. It took me 15 minutes to get out of the truck and go inside. I even parked in the wrong place because I was on auto pilot. Once inside I wanted to run away. I never want to be inside that building again. Either of them. It’s irrational and I know I am going to need to get over it but I can’t right now. Every corner I see her, in a wheel chair, waiting for me to push her into an elevator. Or sitting around the corner waiting for a blood draw. I see the same faces of the same ladies working at reception who helped her and I pray no one makes eye contact with me. I know they won’t know who I am, but if they look at me I will feel like I am supposed to walk up and say; hi good morning, yes Jacy Franceschi at 10:30-04039018. Thanks yes I know where the paperwork goes.

If I drive towards the city it’s all I can do not to head towards Stanford. Again partly on auto pilot and partly because I still feel like she is there and this is all one big misunderstanding! There is no way she is gone, there is no way she is dead; there is no way she is in this wood box sitting behind me! The summation of her physical being bound into a bag with a copper tag and number that have the earrings she was wearing taped to it! There is just no way!!! They said it was a 10/10 match!!! She had the very best odds. They said that, I heard it!! They said she was going to live and there was only the slightest of chances things could go wrong! I heard that too!!!! They fucking said it!!!

I want someone to wake me from this horrible dream. PLEASE!!!!

Listen, I know they said a ton of other things as well, but it is just where I am right now. I don’t blame them, everyone was amazing to us and our family.

I just want my wife back! Can I go to heaven just for the day? (yeah like the song) Just so I can make sure she is ok? It was my job for so long it just feels so unfinished, and yet that is exactly what it has become. Just a day so I can come back and take care of the kids knowing she is all right. That’s all I ask..

Oh well, I guess I will just have to assume.

Listen, I know it will get easier over time. I don’t know how long that is going to be and really I don’t care. I loved her for 17 years, she was my very best friend and I will love her still, no matter where life takes me. I will never quit loving her, or the memory of her, I just wish for a while, I could turn my brain off and quit being afraid.

A Little Christmas message..

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday of the year.Lights, trees, church, love, family and all the wonders that come with celebration.

Over the last five years we have struggled to make it the very best Christmas we can. Some years we did a stellar and I mean a flat out,old college try, jaw dropping successful experiment in making things work bringing love and joy into an otherwise really shitty situation! Then other times we just muddled through taking selfies and tons of family pics simply to prove we did our very best.

In the long run or the end game as it were, this did turn into a blessing as we have some sense of just how much we all loved Jacy and our family through this hell we were living. Don’t get me wrong, we knew just how much we loved everyone, and know it to this day. I genuinely love every one of our families to no end! But trying, even when you don’t want to and it feels just wrong is 100% the right thing to do.

 So here we are, December 5, 2018, 47 days since my sweet Jacy left us to be with God.

Guess what?

I don’t want too.

Yup, that’s right, my favorite holiday and I simply don’t want too. I am trying my hardest to find the joy in this moment. I made it through Thanksgiving which is by far not one of my favorite holidays, but I just don’t feel it.

Parker got out the fake tree last night. We always put up a fake tree right away in the room where the wood stove is in so you can see it when you come downstairs in the morning. He drug out all the ornaments and put up the lights. I was proud of him for taking the lead and I told him so. I chose to put my feelings aside and help him, because as his father, regardless of my personal feelings I need to set an example and I know that for the same reason I don’t want it, he really does.

While we dug around in the closet for the “cheap” ornaments that go on the fake tree. I knocked a shelf and a hat box fell onto my head. It burst open and inside was every single love letter I had ever written my wife.I had no idea she had kept them all. I knew of several hat boxes and their contents, but this one I hadn’t seen. I stood jaw open as I picked them up carefully and started to read them to myself.

By the end of it, an hour had gone by, I was balling again as my heart poured out to my wife within the confines of those pages. One of them had her lipstick on the bottom as though she had kissed it after reading it.

What she never knew was I kept every letter she ever wrote tome. My favorite being a single page left under her pillow for me to find (she knew I would because I make the bed every morning) after she left for Haiti on her first trip. I read them all, the cards too. I saved the one from Haiti for the end.

I cried some more.

Now this is where you think I probably went into a very deep and dark rabbit hole. Oh I am sad, so very sad but not for what you think.

You see I believe she was there and knocked that box on top of me. I believe she needed me to see it, to feel it and to put her letters and mine together to better help me understand that although I am alone now, this love was never as one sided as it feels without her here. I believe she was telling me in her own way to not be sad for what’s lost but cry tears of joy for what we had together. I know this because that is exactly what she wanted.

I cannot believe a guy like me was able to have a woman like her. She was my best friend in the whole world. How lucky was I to not only be married to an amazing human being, a kind giving soul, but someone who was not only the absolute love of my life brought together by God, but my very best friend as well! What we shared, I only wish everyone could feel that, to hold that, to grasp it tight and realize that you are indeed the lucky one!

I put them all away. I cried for a very long time because I do miss her so, so much! I do feel as though I still can’t do this without her but I know I will, it is just who I am and I know it’s one of the many reasons she loved and believed in me. I just need to believe in myself and that will come with time.

I am going to do my best to make Christmas happy, or as happy as it can be for our family. I will carry forward our love, it will suck Christmas morning as there was no mom happier than her watching her children tear apart gifts and laugh together.

I will try. I promise.

Jacy if you have anything else hidden that you need me to find, could you please wait until after the first of the year? I am pretty dehydrated from crying so damn much..

Thanks, I love you…

Choices

You know the funny thing about being a living breathing human being?

You and you alone have a choice. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not you have a choice in everything you do, say, the way you react or don’t react to life.

Choice is powerful, we have the freedom of choice and how we wield that choice. I am thankful for that because it means as a human being I am allowed to choose which direction I go in any situation, including the precarious emotional moments I am currently living.

Right now, I have chosen sadness as my course. You heard me right, I have chosen to allow sadness into my life. To not meet the male dominated pre-requisite that we all understand to be a norm but is instead a gigantic falsehood of life; and that is to swallow it down, hiding from the sting of losing quite possibly the one person on this earth who will ever love me for who I am, who I was and who she always thought I could become. That statement alone as its read, and I recall all the times she looked me in the eyes, told me she loved me or was proud of who I had become, creates a surge of sadness that forms deep in my chest and moves like a wave towards my outer being. Who will do that? Who will be proud of me? Who will I champion for in the future, who has my back and loves me unconditionally? Who? And don’t say my children because;

1-that’s a given and

2-that is not what I am referencing here. It’s about the relationship built between you and your spouse..

My son texted me the other day, he wanted to know what I was doing, how I was feeling and our texting conversation ended with; I am feeling down. When prompted as to what was happening he replied; I just need to talk to mom. I replied: is there anything I can do? His response: No I just want to talk to mom about shit….. (in his vernacular “shit” means life)

Yeah; let that sit for a moment. Pardon my bluntness but you’re an asshole if that doesn’t tear you up inside just a little. Anyone who was close to their mom and has lost that person knows exactly how my son is feeling. Sad, alone, the boy inside of him simply needed his mommy. To hear her voice, to laugh together at stupid stuff, to hear I love you son at the end of the conversation. Fuck you Leukemia, fuck you GvHD, I hate you all to hell!

But even though those moments come and go, and even though each day that void widens I choose to keep going, to move forward, and to act in a manner that is respectful to both myself and my family. To set an example for our children. Our lives still need to be lived, there is so much out there to accomplish when it comes to our lives and the lives of others. We still have a choice.

Jacy has none of those choices. She didn’t choose this as her destiny. She can no longer choose an alternate outcome or make decisions based upon her feelings. She can no longer do anything from the confines of the handmade box sitting behind me on the table with her picture hovering over the top.

On the flip side though, Jacy did choose as a living, breathing human being exactly how she would exit this earth. She made it very clear what her expectations where and how we as the ones she loved and cherished most would handle that task. She did not want to go, even though her faith was strong, she wasn’t ready, she screamed she wasn’t ready, she felt as though there was so much left for her to do! In the end she was mad at God for stripping her of her family, something she had always wanted, but knew it was time and was welcoming the thought of heaven.

I am trying my hardest to honor her requests, and I will continue to do so until my very last breath. Why? Because I loved her unconditionally the same way she loved me. Because I made a promise to her 17 years ago, 5 years ago and two months ago! I always keep my promises. She was the center of my universe and even though she is gone I will cherish every single moment we spent together in memory over all those years.

I have no doubt as time rolls forward, our lives will change, priorities will change, and the look of our family will change. But her name, her memory and what she hoped for will not change as I will carry that forward with her in my heart and right by my side in spirit. It was and is my choice.

So what exactly is my point?

When the time comes and darkness hits your family, who are you going to become?  There is no reason to face it alone, because you don’t have too. As I have stated many times over the last five years, I started sharing our story because I didn’t want other spouses, partners or family members to feel alone. Like it was them against the world. I really wanted them to have a voice, a place to speak out, to read, understand and reach forward to someone such as myself who was open and accepting while painfully walking that walk.

Now our journey has ended and I am beginning a new journey forward, as one instead of two. It is scary as hell, I am worried for the future of this family, and the one person who understood me is no longer here to help guide me. But I am not alone.

You don’t ever need to be alone either! You know why?

Because you have a choice.