Are you ready for a story? Here goes.
Two years ago for Christmas, Kalissa’s family bought me a Grandma Shark shirt. I loved the shirt immediately and wear it often. I think most of you are familiar with the Baby Shark song but for those of you who aren’t, here’s a Youtube clip.
It’s a super catchy tune for kids and adults and the song is all the rage with preschool-aged kids.
You can imagine how excited me, a childcare provider, was when Kalissa gifted me the shirt. I’m a T-shirt and jeans sort of girl so, I wear the shirt often.
I wore my grandma shark shirt on May 28th of 2019. That is one of those days that I can see in my mind very clearly and is one of those days that shaped my life.
I was sitting in this waiting room while Kramer, my husband, went in to get his PET scan. I was trying to be hopeful but as his wife, I knew. I knew things with his cancer were going downhill…. I knew they were going downhill fast.
Getting him to the appointment was so hard. He was a little owly and I was a little frustrated. He thought he knew how to his calculate his oxygen. I thought he didn’t know how.
Originally Kayla was supposed to take him for this appointment but Kramer had gone downhill so quickly, I was nervous to take him so I certainly wasn’t going to let Kayla take him when she didn’t know where to go or what to expect. Kramer would fight riding in a wheelchair. He tried so hard not to look weak but he needed to ride in a wheelchair. I was the only one that could make him ride in the wheelchair. He’d pull out his big booming dad voice and get the kids to let him do whatever he wanted. Even with oxygen, walking that far would have totally pooped him out.
A PET scan was supposed to take about two hours. So here I sat in this waiting room. I sat and everything started to grind on me. Something was wrong with Kramer. I knew it. He needed to see a doctor. He needed to see a doctor on this day. Originally we were supposed to come back the next day and find out what the PET scan said. I was so exhausted from just getting him to the hospital. I wasn’t up for another day of fighting to get him back to the hospital. So I picked up my phone and started calling up to the oncology floor. I decided he was going to be seen that day and we were going to find out the PET scan results that day.
I called and begged for an appointment. If you know me, I have this setting in my brain that I call the “Woah be onto the person who tells me no” mood. So as they were telling me there was no appointment available, I started advocating for Kramer and advocating for myself. I just knew mcoming back to Lacrosse the next day would be too much. The two-hour drive there and back was more than Kramer or I could do.
After MUCH trouble they said we could get in at 1:30pm. This was the earliest they could possibly do as it took a bit for the radiologist to read the PET scan and send up his report.
This would be a long wait and I had to arrange to get Kramer onto hospital oxygen but waiting here in Lacrosse for three hours was better than driving the two hours home just to turn around and have to drive back the next day.
Kramer got out of his appointment and I told him the news that I had moved his appointment and we’d wait and be seen today. Kramer was so relieved. His life had turned into a waiting game at this point and waiting here was much easier for him than the car ride back and forth. By now cancer had eaten the bones in his neck so the jostling while riding in the car was so painful for him. Cancer in the bones is so challenging. He was happy to not have to make a trip the next day.
We went to the oncology waiting room. We started talking about food. Kramer had a feeding tube and couldn’t eat but he was worried about me and me getting lunch. I said I would just wait and grab something on the way home. By now it was 11:30ish and the nurse called us back for his appointment. This surprised us both. We were ready for a long wait. This was about two hours earlier than his appointment.
We were told we were going to be seeing a PA that we had only seen once before but we didn’t mind her so it was okay. She was only going to tell us the PET scan results, not change any treatment. We waited in the office for a bit but then she came in. She was nice…sat down on her chair, adjusted the computer screen so we could see, and pulled up his scan on the computer.
I looked at it. By now, between Kramer and I, we’d seen several PET scans…but this I couldn’t figure out. Kramer had lung cancer. It was in his right low lobe. In that area, there was a big circle and it was black. The rest of his lungs were a limey neon color. I could see that limey neon color everywhere else too. Hmm. I thought DARN. The radiation didn’t take. That spot on his lung was black…but then as the doctor started to talk, it dawned on me. The limey neon color showed cancer. His cancer was everywhere except where he had radiation. WHAT? How could that be? How could he be loaded with cancer??
…and with that, I thought my world had ended. I zoned out for a second and then brought myself back around. I needed to be attentive. I needed to get back to the present. Kramer was full of cancer. The doctor was talking and I had to focus. He was dying. I needed to know everything I could so I could help him leave this world in all the grace and dignity we could manage so I pulled thoughts away from myself and back to him.
The doctor said what I thought. Kramer was full of cancer. We talked for bit…and it was me that finally asked, how long does he have? She said we needed to get to planning or doing whatever we needed as he only had 3-4 weeks to live.
Again, my world stopped. Again, I worked to bring myself around. It was all I could do not to wail…not to scream…not to fall in a ball on the floor. But I couldn’t. Kramer needed me. In a short second, I promised myself that I could do all of those things once he passed. For now, where he could see me, I’d have to fake it. I had to fake being strong so he wouldn’t worry about me. It was so important to me that he not worry about me.
The appointment was done. Kramer was sent home to die. I was sent home to watch him die. UGH. It was definitely one of the hardest days of my life.
The nurse sent me down to get our vehicle to pull up to the door. She was going to swap out oxygen tanks and get Kramer situated then wheel him down to the door to meet me with the truck.
As I walked out of the room, I thought, now. Now you can fall apart. He can’t see you. But I couldn’t. I had to walk through the oncology waiting room. I couldn’t let all of those people see me crying. All of those people still had hope. I couldn’t take their hope away. I couldn’t let them see that for some people on the cancer journey, hope is stolen away.
I got to the elevator. I pushed the button. I prayed for an empty elevator. I could cry in the elevator. The door opened. The elevator was pretty full and there was a little kid. He looked at my shirt, saw the grandma shark, and started chatting with me about my shirt.
It was all I could do to hold the conversation….and then somehow, even in my overwhelming grief, the kid got me to laugh.
I don’t remember what he said. I don’t remember what I said back. All I remember is a big overwhelming feeling that I could get through this. I could still laugh even when my world was falling apart….and that laughter might just be the thing that got me through these hard days ahead. Maybe it was the laughter and not the tears that would move me forward.
I got to the truck, drove around to pick up Kramer, and started heading home. Our time in the truck was filled with questions, plans, and phone calls to the kids. They needed to know their dad was dying. It was hard. But, Kramer and I both found a few things to laugh about on the way home. I was always the straight man to his comedy. He loved making people laugh and right up to the end, a short 4 1/2 days later, he worked to keep us laughing.
He still makes us laugh to this day….So many of our memories of him are quirky…like jokes he told us or sayings he had. He’d say things like, “you do the math”. Now we catch ourselves saying it to others in the family just like he used to say it. That saying was connected to a story he used to tell and we’ll all start laughing over the memory.
I think many people, as they grieve, forget to laugh. Sometimes laughing in time of grief might be seen as frowned on as it’s not something somber or respectful as death is often perceived to be. For us at the Kramer house, laughter over memories of Kramer’s silly quirks, goofy sayings, and often non politically correct jokes move us forward and I know Kramer wouldn’t want it any other way. He’d want to see us laughing!
If it hadn’t been for my Grandma Shark T-shirt and the short laughing exchange in the elevator with the little boy on the day we were told Kramer was truly dying, I might not have seen the value in children or laughter as one of the best medicines to deal with grief. So many people questioned when I only took a week off after Kramer died and then went back to doing childcare. I knew it was the right thing for me. It truly has been children and laughter, that has me putting one foot in the front of the other facing a new day….
Today would have been birthday number 59 for Kramer. It’s the second birthday he’s not here to celebrate with us. Instead, of celebrating his birthday, we are celebrating Kayla’s boy Jasper, mine, and Kramer’s grandchild number 6. He is getting baptized today on Kramer’s birthday. When Kayla called and asked if it was okay to baptize him on Kramer’s birthday. I said YES! Kramer would have loved it. I can’t think of a better way to honor the day.
Lilly, Buck and Lora’s little girl, is getting baptized too. They are doing baptism at Kayla’s church too. Buck’s church isn’t open in a way that baptism can happen. So Kayla offered to Buck that the kiddos share their baptism date. Kayla’s minister was awesome and is doing a private service to keep us all a little safer.
I am thrilled with it all. You might remember that Gannon and Georgia share a baptism date, the day Kramer died. Baptism was so important to him. He tried to hang on until he could see them baptized and died a few hours before we had it was scheduled. One of the last things he said to me just minutes before he passed away was to ask what time it was. He wanted to make it Sunday…and he did. He wanted to see the grandkids baptized. So it’s so fitting to baptize Lilly and Jasper on his birthday.
I know so many of you reading are dealing with your own grief. Grief over the state of the world, COVID, storm damage….hurricanes, wildfires, and even the grief of the loss of loved ones. Whatever you do, take time to find something that makes you laugh. It can be the best medicine. Laughter is a great healer.