Saturday, August 29, 2015

Two Weeks Ago Today

August 27, 2015
Two weeks ago tonight Marv and I sat on the couch together.  We had gone to dinner at The Pizza Factory earlier in the evening and taken Anna and a friend.  Anna was so set on pasta but uncharacteristically relented and let her dad get pizza: half pepperoni, sausage and peppers for me and half Hawaiian (Marv’s favorite).  Lane was working at Café Rio, so we were waiting up for him, watching Jimmy Fallon Live and winding down for the night. Sometime between 11:30 and midnight we heard a quiet knock on our door.  It was a young man from our ward who had recently returned from his mission. He hadn’t heard from his mother—a woman who was normally in bed by 8:30. She wasn’t home when he returned to the house that night, and she wasn’t answering either of her phones.  Her car was in the church parking lot, but there was no sign of her or her whereabouts, leaving her son visibly worried and confused.  As the Relief Society President of our ward, she had met with Marv sometime between 7:00 and 8:00, so her son was simply trying to retrace her steps which led him to the bishop’s house. We speculated about where she might be and sent a few text messages in an effort to locate her or her close friends. Marv was just getting up to put on his shoes so he could help the young man in his search when the call came on Marv's phone. Apparently, the mother had gone with a friend for a much-needed single mom reprieve (a.k.a. a Diet Coke run), and the car in the church parking lot was not hers but one identical to it.

Eventually, mother and grown son were reunited in our front yard, Lane came home from work, the kids went to bed, and the TV went off.  While turning down our bed in preparation to say our nightly prayers together, I mentioned to Marv how tender I thought it was that our young friend was so worried about his mom.  I even went so far as to say that he “...was just so sweet! I hope our boys would show that much love and concern and take care of me like that if I were ever alone.”  Little did I know that the next 12 hours would afford my boys the opportunity to become their mother’s watchmen--her guardians, her tender caretakers--my rocks.

August 28, 2015
Two weeks ago today I woke my husband with a goodbye kiss.  “Bye, baby.”  It was only my second day back in the classroom, but we fell back into our morning ritual with ease.

"Mmmm. Bye-bye, cutie pie. Have a good day…"

"I will. Love you…"

Standing at the threshold of our bedroom door, I waited for his muffled reply before leaving. “Love you too.” They would be our last words to each other.

It was going to be a productive day. I got more done in the first three hours than I had accomplished all summer.  My website was updated, my room organized, my English 8 disclosure revised and printed, the first day’s lesson was outlined, and the posters needed for our day one activity were laminated.  I had even taken time to visit with friends and catch up on weddings, babies, missionaries and the like. Plus, I had two prep days in the upcoming week to prepare for students.  At one point, I remember looking around my classroom thinking that my mother was there watching me, proud of my productivity and happy to see me working hard.

Feeling on top of things, I created an email group for the new student council members and began composing their first email of the year.  That’s when the call came from my mother-in-law.  Eleven twenty-two to be exact.   


“Where are you?”

“Just sitting in my classroom getting things…”

“Well, leave your classroom right now." Her uncharacteristic interruption garnered my full attention. "We have bad news for you..." Filling in the pauses of her deliberate diction, I assumed she was calling about my 81-year-old father-in-law who had recently survived a post-operational bout of sepsis, but somehow, I knew that wasn't the case. "Marv was out at the barn by the four-wheelers…” At the sound of his name I was on my feet, grabbing my purse and pressing the phone to my ear for details. “…and looks like he fell 'cause he only got the machines half uncovered." Her voice, a mix of calculated calm and undeniable lament, made it obvious she was telling me only what she needed to.  "We’d only been gone about an hour, so we’re not sure how long he’d been there, but when Lolly got to him and ask him what he could do for him, he just said, ‘Call an ambulance.’”

“Is the ambulance still there?!”

“No. The police came right away and started working on him…”  Working on him? By then I was out of my room and running for the office. “…and since then, the ambulance has been here and they’ve taken him,” she said.

“Oh, Ruth!  But he was conscious, right? You said he was talking…?”

“No. By the time I called 9-1-1 and got out there, he wasn’t. But he did take two deep breaths before they put him in the ambulance. I saw that much.”

“Mountainview, right?”


“Mountainview Hospital…in Payson?!”


“I’m on my way.” I hung up and immediately began my worried moan-cry.

I cut through the office but didn’t see anyone until I got up front. “My-husband-is-in-the-hospital-and-I-don’t-know-why! I’m leaving.”  Remembering that Kaye and I were going to lunch in a few minutes, I ran to her room and repeated the same robotic blurb.  By then Susan had come out of the office looking for me, and seeing the panic on my face, suggested that I let someone drive me. She and Kaye both offered, and while Kaye went to grab her keys, Susan consoled me.

“I can’t do this.  I can’t lose him,” I cried in her ear, not believing that I'd even considered this, let alone allowed its utterance. 

Pulling away from me, she said, “It’s going to be okay. He’s going to be alright.”

I nodded, gave her one last hug, asked her to say a prayer, and followed Kaye to her car.

During the drive I called my kids. Their grandmother had called the house looking for me, so they knew and were on their way. Lane and I began talking over one another with the same panicked questions, but my “Where are you?” trumped his.

“We are just passing your school,” he said.

“Good. You are right behind me. Drive carefully…And say a prayer!”

“Mom, is Dad going to be okay?”

“I don’t know, honey, but I hope so. He’s probably having a heart attack like Brother Muhlestein, so yes, he’s going to be fine.  All we can do now is pray. You hear me? Pray! And drive safe.”

“Okay, Mom. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

Somehow, while talking to my kids I convinced myself that all would be well.  He was going to be okay. Even though I told Kaye I’d had a nightmare just nine days prior that he’d died of a heart attack. Even though I had hurried home from my overnight writing retreat because I had felt the time to show him how much I loved him was urgent. Even though I recognized how unusual it was that we'd gone everywhere together the previous week—check-cashing, lazer-bowling, bill-paying, drink-running, friend-seeing, star-gazing, grocery-getting, even shoe-shopping everywhere! Even though I had felt my mother’s presence in my home all summer trying to tell me something. Even though I felt Marv himself comforting me… In that moment, I convinced myself that if I had enough faith, he would pull through.  He would be okay.

After a slow, agonizing thirteen-minute drive, Kaye pulled in behind the empty ambulance, its doors still flung wide.  I got out of the car only to find the sliding glass emergency doors to the hospital were locked and not opening, so I ran (the wrong way) checking doors and yelling at nurses when I finally made it inside. “Emergency Room! Where is it?”  Kaye met me at the proper entrance after parking the car and walked me in.  Before they could ask me anything, I barked at the people sitting behind the trauma desk, leaving Kaye to run interference with my kids. “Marvin Thompson?”

“He’s in Trauma 1, right there” A nurse pointed straight ahead. 

“Can I go in?”

I don’t know if she said yes, but I began running toward the closed curtain, fully expecting to see my husband all prepped for surgery and teasing me that I wasn’t getting rid of him yet—a joke I hated but one he insisted on repeating in emergency situations.  They would put in a few stents, maybe do open-heart surgery, but he was going to be okay. Damn it!  He was going to be okay I repeatedly told myself.

Instead, I pulled back the curtain to the trauma room and was met by a sight that will haunt me the rest of my life: my husband’s lifeless, half-naked body experiencing the violence of CPR at the hands of a frantic team of doctors and nurses. “Marv!  Oh, Marv!” I cried out, hoping he would attempt to answer me in spite of being intubated.

“Is this the wife?” a team member asked, and all I could think was the wife? Don't you mean, his wife?  

At some point, my mother-in-law had joined me, and we were ushered to a nearby room where a nurse calmly explained what they knew so far.  They hadn’t had a heartbeat, but they were going to keep trying.

I immediately fell to my knees, said a quick, sobbing prayer then turned to the nurse and asked if I could be with him.  “Of course,” she said. At that point my mother-in-law stayed in the side room while Kaye tended to my children down the hall.

Trying to be rational and calm, I stepped behind the curtain again, watching in a daze as the team switched positions every three minutes and took turns pushing into my husband’s chest with no regard for his sore back or the broken ribs that had turned his chest to a mass of fleshy Jell-o. Looking up at the monitor, I allowed my hope to return as I noticed activity bleeping on the vitals screen but soon realized that it was only a result of the compressions. False hope.

I repeatedly gave Marv our three I-Love-You squeezes to the hand and waited for the four-squeeze reply. But it never came.  

The nurse continued to explain the medical procedures to me and asked questions about my family while she rubbed her open hand between my shoulder blades in an attempt to calm me. Though soothing and somewhat distracting, it didn’t keep me from noticing the doctor’s pained expressions when I told the nurse that I had just lost my mother in March, that Marv wasn't only my husband but also my bishop (hoping he'd remember that bishops don't die), that we had three children: two in the waiting room and one on a mission in Mexico. I also saw the doc wince when I begged Marv to come back to me from beyond the veil if he was given a choice on the other side--a pleading prompted by the life-after-death-books we'd both read in conjunction with my mom's passing.  As my worst fears slowly crept into my reality, I couldn't mistake the look in Dr. Eggbert's eyes when I asked how long their team had "been at it," when they had last "shocked" him, and if they had seen any sign of a heartbeat as I pointed to the unhooked leads covering Marv's chest.  With each negative, pursed-lip response I knew that everything they were doing at that point was simply an effort placate me—to show they had tried.

Glancing from me to the clock, the doctor finally spoke. “We need to talk,” he said, locking eyes with mine in a moment of unavoidable solemnity.  I followed his nod to the clock and was shocked to see that ten more minutes had lapsed.  Time was standing still in my mind.

Reluctant and hollow, I let him lead me back to the side room with Ruth, hoping I wouldn't be asked to make the decision I dreaded, but still praying he had better news than I expected. 

Taking a deep breath, he began, “We are now getting to the point where we are worried about brain function and the condition of other organs. It has been almost an hour since the call came in."  Ruth and I both nodded dumbly as he continued.  "Even if we were able to start his heart at this point, there would be significant damage. We will give it a few more minutes but…”

“So… this is it?” I interrupted. This is all we get?

“I’m afraid so.” He put his hand on my shoulder, my knowing glance making it obvious that I understood the words he had just said. I nodded again. Then he turned and left the room--his only job now… to call the time of death--12:02.

In spite of my faith, Marv was gone and probably had been for awhile. Life as we knew it was over.

Before I could accept what was happening, the nurse began explaining the process they were going through behind the curtain. They would take the tube from his throat, clean up his bloodied face, and cover him appropriately so my children and I could see him.

My children...

As difficult as the last few minutes had been, I knew that the next few would be even harder.  I had to tell my kids. How could I tell my children? How could I watch them receive such a devastating blow? 

Flanked by a nurse and my mother-in-law, we somehow managed to navigate my empty legs down the curved hallway of the E.R. I still didn’t know how I was going to tell them that Dad was gone. The word “died” was too harsh at that point, but “passed away” felt like a lie--too delicate for what I had just witnessed. The word choice battle in my head didn’t last long and was completely unnecessary.

They didn’t need words.

My haunted face and slight head shaking told them everything.  When our eyes met, both Anna and Lane came running toward me screaming.  “No! No! Nooooooooo!”  I wanted to fall to the floor in a huddled mass, but my kids held me upright as we sobbed and shook together.  We exchanged I love yous, Whys?, I’m so sorrys, and more Noooooos with our tears and were eventually led into what is called the Quiet Room. "Quiet" being a euphemism for “We’re sorry your life just fell apart, but please shut up and don’t get too dramatic 'cause we have a hospital to run...”

The kids were met with hugs from their grandparents and Kaye was the first to offer her sympathies to me. I was so grateful for her. She had been there with my kids when I couldn’t, she had watched in agony as my body language told my children they no longer had a dad, and now she was faced with the task of driving back to the school to deliver the worst news of all: “He didn’t make it.”

Before she could leave, however, my logistical need for propriety kicked in. I knew Ruth and Lolly were making phone calls to Marv’s side of the family, and I needed to do the same for mine.  Someone offered to get a hold of Kyle’s mission president, and I asked everyone else to stop calling until I let my sister know. I didn’t want anyone finding out about Marv on Facebook—especially my siblings who were still grieving the loss of our mother.  Fortunately, Janice answered right away and she was able to understand my sobb-laced explanation and accept my request to let our family know. I called Angela next and then I was done. With a wave of my hand, the calling could commence.

And commence it did. Within minutes, more close friends were coming to the Quiet Room to console us. By that time, Marv’s body had been cleaned up and I was given the okay to see him again. Anna refused, but Lane reluctantly agreed to walk with me.

All was calm when I was allowed back behind the curtain. The team had dispersed, leaving only the doctor and two nurses.  The nurse who had talked me through the ordeal hugged me and told me she was so, so sorry.  In return I thanked her and let her know that I had nurses in my family and knew that these situations were hard on the staff too.  The doctor then expressed his condolences and let me know that he knew Marv.  They had just golfed together weeks prior.  Seeing this human side of the man who had just called my husband’s time of death brought a small measure of comfort as I realized they had done all they could do.

The rest was up to me. 

It was time to face my new reality: I had been orphaned and widowed in a matter of months.


I hated the word already.  It was only 12:20 and I hated the word already.

August 29, 20015

Two weeks ago today I wrote this.

August 15, 2015

I woke up this morning without you—
A shell of the woman I was just hours ago.
Your keys and wallet on the table
Tell my mind you are still here,
But my heavy heart and hollow limbs
Say otherwise.

I want to call out to you with hope--
Hope you will answer--
But I fear the blaring silence and
Steady ticking of the clock that
Replace your anticipated reply.
And yet…
I feel your tender touch when my
Hungry arms reach for yours,
Craving the comfort of a full embrace.

I woke up this morning without you.
And though I’m not ready,
I sense your “This-is-The-Plan” whisper in my heart,
Bringing with it an unwelcomed peace--
A peace that’s forcing me to accept that
While my first day without you
Was filled with emptiness
And fraught with tears,
It may not compare to the pain that lies ahead.

So forgive me in the upcoming days
When I pretend you are still here
By opening drawers, caressing pillows, or
Immersing myself in your shirts
Still hanging in the closet.

It will be my way of reminding myself
That though our dance was interrupted too soon,
The music still plays;
Though you have been called to watch from afar,
I have been asked to dance alone.

Christine C. Thompson

August 30, 2015
Two weeks ago today my children and I went to church knowing full well that is where Marv would want to be. The messages were tender and dealt mostly with the family. Fathers were mentioned several times as were references to fathers in scriptures.  At the close of the meeting, President Hiskey offered a heartfelt message about our ward family’s loss.  The love and respect he has for Marv was evident, and it made my heart sing to hear him refer to my husband as one of the greatest men who ever sat in the bishops’ chair. I couldn’t have agreed more.  My sister and niece sitting behind us were a representation of the support and rallying that had begun just hours before.

At 2:00 we met with Matt, the best funeral director known to man.  In addition to showing concern for me and my children, he didn’t bat an eye when I presented him with a stack of 100-plus photos to scan for the DVD presentation. But before that, he tenderly shared the death certificate information which included the cause of Marv’s sudden death: a bilateral pulmonary embolism resulting from a DVT in his left leg. It wasn’t a heart attack. There was nothing anyone could have done for him had they been standing right there when it hit. Anna could stop beating herself up for not going with her dad that day, and my in-laws could stop lamenting the fact that they weren’t home when Marv pulled into their drive and began hooking up the four-wheeler trailer only to collapse, unseen by anyone.  There was nothing we could have done.  At that point, I was just grateful it didn’t strike while he was driving and that Anna wasn’t with him. . . None of us even knew he had a clot, and looking back now seemed pointless.  Besides, we had a funeral to plan.

Matt and I briefly reflected on the funerals Marv had conducted this past year and made note of all the things I loved about the care shown in each case. In total, Marv and I had been part of six funerals in the months leading up to his passing, and this had allowed us the opportunity to discuss the logistics of such an event—an event I never guessed I’d be planning so soon.  If I do say so myself, I was probably the easiest client who ever walked through Matt’s door (100-plus photos aside). In the hour we were there I had chosen a day and time for the services, edited the obituary, outlined the program, presented all the photos necessary, chosen a casket, picked floral arrangements, and asked specific questions regarding the services themselves and the logistics behind them—all with the help of my children, of course.  In the midst of planning, I looked over at Kyle who had returned from his mission the previous evening and asked, “Is that the only suit you brought home?”  Seeing the concern in my eyes, Matt offered a discount at a local tailor and told Kyle that if he went tomorrow first thing, they could have a new black suit funeral ready the following day. All I needed to do was pick out a plot and pay for the opening and closing of the gravesite the following morning. Boom.  Funeral planned.  Two texts, a few emails, a free suit (compliments of Matt’s “discount”), and one follow up trip later, we were in business.

We then went home where we were surrounded by family who had converged from all over the country in a show of love and support.

September 2, 2015

Two weeks ago today, I buried my husband…


Debbie Frampton said...

Wow. This is so powerful. I'm sitting here weeping. Not only does it make me so sad for you, but also so aware for me. Time is ticking, and who knows what lies around the bend. I am so glad you wrote this all down. It's incredibly poignant, and you are a fantastic writer. I'm so so sorry about this third important loss in your life--your line about becoming an orphan and a widow in a matter of months was a punch in the gut.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Debbie. As expected, the grief has grown so overwhelming that I can't write (or at least publish my feelings). I hope to add to this post soon, so thank you for the encouragement.