I remember when one of my biggest fears was losing my parents. I was so attached to them; at times they were my world. I felt that if they died, I would fall apart and not be able to survive on my own. I knew death was inevitable. After all, none of us will make it out of this life alive. And yet, death of a loved one seemed so incredibly foreign to me. It was as if death and dying only happened to others; it did NOT dare happened to me...Until one day, it did.
I remember one day when my mother and I were talking. We had walked out of the house and were standing next to my car. She nonchalantly mentioned that she was planning to have a surgery in August. The doctor had found some cancer cells during a routine visit. She had a biopsy, which came up cancer free, but it didn’t negate the fact that cancer cells were found before. So as a precaution, a hysterectomy was in order.
Mom of course joked about it, she said she didn’t have any plans to have more kids so she didn’t need her uterus anyway. And of course we laughed, I told her that I would take time off of work if she needed someone to be with her during the day while dad was at work. Then we decided we would talk more about it later, and then I left. I went home that night not really feeling alarmed or too concerned. My thoughts were that she was going to have this routine surgery, they were going to rid of the issue, and then everything would be ok.
Not too long after that conversation, she started having respiratory issues. Her breathing became labored and she would get winded easily. Mom was a very active woman at her age. She did Zumba classes, and went on walks, but the issues she was having was causing her to slow down a bit. She thought that maybe it was an infection or a cold, and that eventually it would go away. And at times, it seemed like it did. But come August as she was being wheeled into the operating room for her hysterectomy, the anesthesiologist shut the whole operation down. He was looking at an x ray that showed she had fluid around her lungs. All the doctors concurred that she needed to address her lungs first before having the hysterectomy. They told her that it would have been too hard for her to come in during recovery; that it would be too taxing on her to endure having to treat her lungs right after having a hysterectomy. Sometimes I look back on that decision, and I wonder if that was the catalyst to her descent.
So for the next few months after this, mom had to have her lungs drained, only to find out that the results from testing the fluid was inconclusive. She did have an MRI done, which showed a large mass around her belly button as well as masses in other areas, but for some reason no one cared to look at that MRI. It was like she was bringing her copy of her MRI with her to all of these doctor’s appointments, but no one seemed to look at it. She had a biopsy taken from her stomach. Afterwards, when she was talking to the doctor who did the procedure, he realized he had taken tissue from the wrong area. He apologized, and said that next time he would look at the MRI and get tissue from the right spot. That didn’t make her feel very good about the care she was getting, but she continued on the crusade to find this rogue cancer that nobody could seem to diagnose.
Finally in December of 2017, she was admitted into the hospital. They were going to do an exploratory laparoscopic surgery to see what was going on. When she awoke she realized that they had done a far more aggressive surgery. It certainly wasn’t done laparoscopically based in the incision that went from her sternum, down passed her belly button. The surgeon told my dad that there was cancer everywhere; it had metastasized throughout her entire body. But the doctors gave us hope. They said they think they got it all but she was going to have to have chemo and raradiation just for good measure. We all were preparing for the best outcome. Everyone in the family was ready to do there part to help mom recover through this process. But then, about a week later while in the hospital, on December 12, 2017, mom died.
It was abrupt, and very much a shock to me. Death wasn’t even on my radar. I had just seen her a couple days before. But due to the intensity of the surgery, tears formed in her bowel, eventually causing her to go into septic shock. But even if she had not had such an aggressive surgery, her cancer diagnosis was equally grim; she had stage 4 Ovarian Cancer that had metastasized throughout her entire body. I think eventually we all were going to have to face the music. She was dying.
My dad asked the doctor why he never informed him that she might not make it, that the surgery was too aggressive, or that the cancer would be terminal. The doctor simply said that he did not want us to give up hope on the slim chance that she would survive. Dad understood and respected that answer, but he still was so very heart broken, as we all were.
So we celebrated Christmas, partied on New Years, and released balloons into the sky on mom’s birthday on January 2nd. It was surreal, but yet somehow I was ok. I think my focus was on my dad and my concern for him. I was worried he would fall into a deep depression, causing him to go off the deep end. I called him every day, and I remember him saying to me that I didn’t need to worry about him, that he was going to be alright. He said that he was not fragile, and that he was mentally stronger than both my brother and I put together. He assured me that he wasn’t going to do anything stupid, like shoot himself. I realized at that point that he was fine. I hadn’t thought about what he had already been through in his life, the death of his father, his brother, and his mother. He was the only one left of his immediate family. So he knew the experience of death very well. Still yet, the death of mom was vastly different from his previous losses. He had been with mom for 47 years. So I knew he was crushed. But through the loss of mom, him and I developed a new and different kind of relationship. He had become my friend.
Perhaps this was the first silver lining I found. I felt comforted by my dad's honesty and his willingness to talk to me about his emotions and the trauma of mom dying. He understood that life was going to go on and he was going to jump in head first. His whole life he was in the field of construction. He was a superintendent and a certified builder. He spent many years building and fixing structures, but now that mom was gone, he wasn't sure who he was. So he decided that he would start building himself back up. He started to enjoy the little things more, as he admitted he was becoming a grumpy old man before mom died. It was nice to see him sort of resurrect himself. Dad loved music and he was a musician in his own right. He enjoyed concerts, and so he, my brother, and I even had plans to go see a metal band in concert that following September. We had joked that we would bring mom's ashes with us so she could enjoy the festivities too.
Dad also told my brother and I that he planned on dating eventually, which would have been weird for my brother and I. But as my dad explained it, my brother and I had someone to go home to, but he had no one. He was never trying to replace mom because he knew there could never be any replacement, but he just wanted companionship. I understood that. I decided to put my feelings aside and talked to him about dating as if I was a friend. I didn't want him to feel uncomfortable and have him clam up on me. So I adjusted to the "new" dad. He then started to embark on his new single life with wild abandoned.
Fast forward to August 1st of 2018. My dad had just gotten off of work, he had a little vacation planned at the Hard Rock Hotel, where he was going to hang out with friends. My fiancé, son, and I had moved into his house a couple of months prior, so we were living with him at this time. Dad was all ready to go out, and I will never forget what he said to me. He said, "Whelp, I’m going to go relive my childhood." And of course I laughed and told him to have a good time and that I would talk to him later. A couple of hours later, around 10:00 PM, my fiancé said to me, "Do you think we should call your dad, just to check on him?" I said no, that we should just let him be, since we weren’t his parents. We didn’t need to check on him.
About a couple of hours later we got a knock on the door. I remember it being a quarter til midnight, so it was a little late for visitors, but I went ahead to the door anyway. I looked out the window and saw that it was a deputy. I just figured that maybe there was a disturbance down the street, and they were campassing the neighborhood, gathering information. So I opened the door and there was this really sweet female officer, who seemed to be a little uneasy. She asked me if I was the daughter of George Speranzo. I said yes, and she then stated that she was needing to notify next of kin for my dad. She proceeded to tell me that my dad had what appeared to be a cardiac event, he was taken to the hospital by ambulance, but he ultimately didn’t make it, despite doing their best to resuscitate him.
Instead of crying, I think I went numb. I didn’t know how to react accept to become stoic. And then of course I had to make the dreaded phone call to my brother to inform him. He and his family rushed over to the house. I remember my brother and I just looking at each other, neither one of us crying, and just saying, "Really? WOW! This is crazy! Mom had just literally died 8 months ago." We had just settled into the idea that our mother had died and then suddenly our dad dies. Everything felt like it had been flipped upside down. I remember one of my first comforting thoughts was that my parents were now together again. That notion helped me out a lot. And through it all, my brother and I somehow were able to keep a good sense of humor. In fact, at times I think some people thought we were crazy, but we didn’t really care.
One time, I think we were in an office for whatever reason, having to discuss information about our parents. I remember the guy on the other side of the desk gave us his condolences and told us he was sorry for our loss. I can't remember what the joke was, or what we said in response but we started joking around about something. The guy seemed a bit puzzled. It was our way of accepting what was now our new reality. We were adult orphans. Not that "adult orphans" was a real thing, but little jokes and stories about our parents is what I believe helped us to carry on. It did not take away the pain and loss, but it did help to soften the blow a little bit. And it also helped my brother and I to reconnect and become closer. So again, I found another silver lining.
My brother and I are still trying to navigate this life without our parents, but instead of mourning there death, we celebrate their lives. We have our moments, as anyone would after their parents die. But for us, finding the silver lining is what keeps us going. Death is inevitable, that is a fact for all of us. Our parents were eventually going to die, it just sucked that it had to be sooner than later, but we had no control over that. This is our reality, and we still have to get up everyday and live our lives. So why spend it in sadness or in pain? Instead of being consumed by grief and constantly shutting down; how about looking outward and forward with open arms, accepting the inevitable, and embracing the unknown. As some people say, "Don’t block your blessings." In times of turmoil, look for the silver lining. The death of a loved one provides grief but the silver lining provides hope.