Friday, September 9, 2011

Hard Times and Schweddy Balls

It's been a long week.  And I'd just like to say that a number of friends and blog readers sent me a link to the announcement of Ben & Jerry's new Schweddy Balls ice cream, and I just want to say THANK YOU.

I'm so glad that when you hear Schweddy Balls, you think of me.

Honestly, it's totally flattering.  Really.

Seriously, though, that ice cream sounds delicious.

So that's the Schweddy Balls.  Onto the hard times.

To cut to the chase:  we've spent this week reeling from the worst news we've gotten since December.

David's grandpa Gene has cancer.  In his liver and gallbladder and the bile ducts in between.  It's a type of cancer that doesn't display symptoms until it's very advanced, and now there's nothing left to do.  Chemo might slow things up, but it won't cure him.  It will make him feel sick and weak.  Surgery is not an option.  He's not a candidate for a liver transplant.  The doctors have given him 2-3 months.

We were there when he got that news.  We knew it was bad, but we didn't know it was THAT bad.

Gene took it pretty well.  He said, "Well, I'm almost 80 years old and I've had a good life."

But I watched him count it out on his fingers.  September, October, November.

I saw my husband's eyes fill with tears as he hugged his grandpa and grandma.  I listened to him make phone call after phone call, informing the rest of the family, telling their friends and neighbors, notifying the pastor at their church.  I watched him reach out his arm to steady his grandpa--who has always been so active, energetic, and athletic--as they walked outside to take a drive in his favorite vintage Mustang.  David is such a good grandson.  I can't help but think he'll be such a good dad, too.

The weekend was full of tears, but we also spent time hearing stories and looking at photo albums.  Making lists of questions to ask doctors and questions to ask lawyers.  Working out in the yard that David's grandparents have always kept looking so pristine.  We headed home on Monday feeling tired and defeated.  We're both glad we can be there, glad we can do everything in our power to help make these months good ones, glad we can try to take some of the burden off David's grandma.  But we just wish he had more time.

David's parents divorced when he was very young and his mom moved back home with him, so he was essentially raised by his grandparents, spending lots of time with them even after his mom moved out and remarried.  He and his grandpa share a deep affinity for the St. Louis Cardinals and for all things that fall in the "dessert" category.  When David and I were first dating, he talked about how great his grandparents were and how much he admires his grandpa.  When I first met them, we had dinner and his grandma made mashed potatoes.  I wasn't a big fan of mashed potatoes, so I didn't put any on my plate.  David's grandpa totally called me out on it and his astonishment was so genuine that I decided to give mashed potatoes a try.  Thanks to Gene, I'm now a huge fan (of course, I'm pretty sure that David's grandma adds a pound of butter and a bucket of sour cream to them, so what's not to like?).  That same night, we played the card game Pitch and David and his grandpa were an unbeatable team.  His grandpa is a great story teller and often when David tells a story or a joke, his delivery and emphasis sound just like Gene, which cracks me up.

Like David's grandma, his grandpa was born in southwest Missouri and grew up in a family that had very little in the way of money or material possessions.  Unlike Peggy, Gene had a pretty rough childhood.  There's one picture of him and some other kids sitting on the front steps of their school house.  Gene and his siblings are the ones not wearing shoes.

He was the third of six kids and he lost his mom when he was young.  His stepmother was a terrible woman by all accounts, and at age fourteen, Gene moved in with a neighbor family and worked for them on their farm to earn his keep.  He was essentially on his own from that moment forward.  He joined up with the National Guard.  He got a good job with Boeing, and he helped build B-52s and later worked on the space shuttle.  He's one of those increasingly rare real life examples of pulling yourself up by your boot straps, starting out life a barefoot little kid living in the sticks, and retiring from a successful career in a lovely home on a beautiful lakeside piece of land.

Oh, and he's ornery as hell.

I hate that we're all going to lose him so soon.  I don't want him to have to suffer in his final months.  My heart aches for David's grandma, who is caring for him and preparing for a life without him, after 53 years of marriage.

So these are hard times.  I'm glad to say that we are doing okay so far.  It turns out David and I know a little something about surviving a crisis and coping with tragedy.  Priorities become clearly defined, and we welcome the specific tasks we can do to make things easier on his grandparents.  It feels good to have something to do, you know?  This is such a different kind of loss from Eliza's death.  It's one we always expected at some point.  It's one we can understand.  But it's still hard.

So thanks again for the Schweddy Balls links.  It gave me a much-needed laugh this week.  And don't worry--I'll report back as soon as I've had a chance to give that ice cream a try.  In fact, I may try to pick up a pint to take to David's grandpa this weekend.  I think he'd get a kick out of it.


  1. I am so sorry to hear about Gene. What sad news. Your tributes to the grandparents in your families are so touching. It is amazing what each of them has accomplished in their lifetimes. They truly are the Greatest Generation and I am always inspired to work a little harder and complain a little less when I hear one of their stories.

  2. Oh, Brooke. I'm so sorry to read the news about Gene. He sounds amazing - the way you write about him makes me wish I knew him.

    Thinking of you and David and your family and sending love. (And shaking my fist at the universe.)

  3. I've tried to write this comment twice now...nothing seems to sound right. I keep coming back to this isn't fair, life really sucks sometimes and I am so sorry you and David are faced with losing your wonderful Grandpa Gene. Of course it would be around this time of year...not that anytime would be "better" but damn.

    Your family will be in my thoughts.

  4. All my love to you and David. I pray David's grandpa has a peaceful transition into hospice care. xo

  5. Dennis told me about Gene the other day, what horrible news. I met Gene once at that George Jones concert we met you guys at. I liked him immediately. Tell Duck that we are thinking of you guys.

  6. Gene sounds like such an amazing character. The stories of his perserverence despite ill-fortune is so admirable. I'm so sorry you're losing him, he sounds like the perfect grandpa.

    Ps Your writing is just so beautiful. I know I say this all the time, but for serious.

  7. Sending (((hugs))) to both of you. Grandparents are so special, & it just sucks hugely to have to lose them. I still miss mine horribly, all these years later.

  8. oh i started bawling when i read about him counting the months. omg. thinking of you all. what a tough thing to go through. i hope you all can enjoy these few months with him. hugs

  9. I'm so sorry. I'll keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.I'm glad that Gene and Peggy have such wonderful and supportive family members such as yourself and David to help them at this difficult time.

  10. Oh my I'm so sorry. Sending love to you all.

  11. much love to you and David and your whole family, Brooke. xoxoxox

  12. I am so sorry to read this. Sending you and David and your family lots of love and prayers.

  13. So very sorry that your family is going through such a difficult time. I think the way you've described Gene here is just beautiful. Sending lots of love.....xoxo

  14. All my love to you, David and your family. Gene sounds like an amazing man.. what an incredible life's story. Wishing him so much peace...

  15. I'm so sorry to hear the news about david's grandpa. I can imagine the increased anguish & devastation this adds to your already broken hearts. I feel like already grieving families should get some sort of "get out of suffering free" card like in monopoly. Praying for him & your family as you navigate through this difficult/emotional time. ((hugs))

  16. I am so sorry to hear about Gene. What a wonderful man, and I love his perspective: "Well, I'm almost 80 years old and I've had a good life." We all go sometime, and I guess you can take comfort (wrong word, maybe?) that he won't suffer long, and that you all have a chance to take a stroll down memory lane and say goodbye. It doesn't make it "easier" now, but you will all cherish these days one day. My thoughts are with you and David, with Gene, and especially with his dear wife. What a heartbreaking time for you all.

    See: Life fucking sucks sometimes.

    Love to you all.


  17. I am so sorry about David's grandpa. He sounds absolutely amazing and I know that the coming months will be filled with love as well as heartache. Wishing you all peace~

  18. I am so sorry about David's grandpa. It's so sad. I don't know how I would deal with being given a specific time frame like that...

    Had to laugh at the ice cream - I posted the article announcing its debut on my FB recently. It does sound tasty! ~Lindsay

  19. I'm so sorry to hear about the cancer, but so happy to hear of what a wonderful person he is and what a character he sounds like . . which in turn makes me even sadder to hear about his prognosis.

    Will be thinking warm thoughts of your family and wishing you all a peace and acceptance that lessens the pain.

  20. So very sorry to read about Gene. All my love to you and your family. I lost my grandpa nine months after Hope died. It was too soon, just far too soon. I wasn't ready for more loss in my life, but I guess, I never would have been.

  21. I'm so sorry to read about Gene. He sounds like an amazing guy, and a fighter. I lost my grandmother two months after Lucy died and my father in law three weeks before she died. It is different, as you say, but still hard. Sending love to both of you. (Sorry, i was on a spiritual retreat, so catching up on blogs this morning. )