Saturday, October 9, 2010

Teresa Goes to be with the Lord

Monday, April 19, 2004, seemed like any other day. I awoke early, got ready, walked and fed Scout, our Maltese Pup, and kissed and said goodbye to my wonderful wife, Teresa, before heading to work. I had a short phone conversation around 9 or so that morning with Teresa, though I don’t remember much about it. She later sent an email containing digital pictures of Melody, which she sent to me, and our parents, daily.

During my trip home, I called Teresa via cell phone and we decided I would stop at the grocery store and pick up stuff for grilling out for dinner that evening. After stopping there, I came home. Homecomings were always exciting since Teresa looked forward to me helping out with Melody and Scout, I looked forward to seeing my wonderful wife after a long day at the office, and Scout always seemed excited to see me no matter how long I was gone. Melody had reached the age, at 5 months, where she knew me when she saw me, and she gave me a big smile when I arrived home.

After settling in, changing clothes, etc., and talking about how our days went, we proceeded to get dinner prepared. Teresa shucked corn on the cob; I got the burgers and hot dogs ready, and started the grill. Melody watched us work around her. It was a fine meal, one that was repeated often when the weather was nice. It was a beautiful day, too, with humidity at a comfortable level despite the warm temperatures.

After our meal, Teresa went upstairs to clean up while I watched Melody. I determined that it was much too nice of an evening to work in the yard, which is what I had planned to do for the evening. I had put it off for so long, but knowing our homeowners association would be doing their annual reviews soon, I knew it had to be done. I came up with an alternate plan for the evening, though, and took Melody upstairs with me to tell Teresa. We decided to take Melody and Scout out and get some ice cream, then go to a park and walk around and enjoy the nice weather.

We piled into our Jeep and headed down the road at around 6:45. About 2 miles later, we remembered that we forgot to get the “Snuggly” to carry Melody in, so we rushed back to the house to get it. It was in the other car, so I just hopped out, retrieved it, and we headed back down the road.

We drove up Gorman Road towards US 29, a rural, twisting, and bumpy road. I remember turning to look at Teresa, sitting in the back seat, with Melody in her infant seat and Scout on her lap, after a particularly bad bump, and asking her if she was okay. She said she felt a little nauseous, so I slowed a bit. I don’t know why I was in such a hurry, except that we noticed the clouds rolling in and our daylight wouldn’t last as long as we thought.

We stopped at a popular little ice cream shop in Clarksville. Teresa stayed in the Jeep with the kids, and I hopped in line. I got Teresa a waffle cone with chocolate ice cream, and I had a mint chocolate chip milkshake. Both were very messy and I asked for a cup to put the cone in. I got back into the Jeep and Teresa enjoyed her ice cream. My shake was too thick to drink, so I placed it in the cup holder to allow it to melt a little.

We decided at this point to drive to Reservoir High School, where Teresa worked, instead of going to a park, because it was getting dark, and we figured there might be a sporting event at the school that we could watch. I drove us down Rt. 108 to Rt. 216 to the school in Fulton.

I parked on the left side of the school, and we proceeded to try to put Melody in the Snuggly, which I wore since Teresa said Melody was getting too heavy for her to carry. This was a bit of a challenge because Melody would fuss until she was comfortably in the Snuggly and we were walking around. We accomplished this and Teresa got Scout’s leash and walked her.

We saw some activity on a few of the fields, so the four of us walked over to see what was going on. It appeared to be softball practice, perhaps, and soccer practice, though the kids playing looked much younger than high school age. We turned around and walked to the front of the school. Teresa had noticed that Addie’s car was out front. Addie was the principal and Teresa’s boss. We thought, if she wasn’t busy, she might like to see Melody.

We walked to the main entrance to try the door, but it was locked. We started back towards the parking lot, and Teresa noticed the light was on in Addie’s office, so I suggested she knock on her window. Teresa walked over to the window with Scout, while I stayed out on the sidewalk with Melody so that Addie would see me if she came to the window. Addie might not see Teresa because of the angle she was at, between the bushes and the building. Teresa asked, with a smile on her face, if I thought she should knock, since, I think, she thought Addie might be busy or with someone, but I said, egging her on, “Sure.” I looked down and to the side for just a moment, possibly to see if anyone else was around, and when I looked back at Teresa, she had collapsed on the ground. Not knowing what happened, I rushed over to her. I thought, initially, that she had tripped on the bushes, or maybe hit her head on the brick wall. I knelt beside her and looked at her face. Her eyes were staring blankly straight ahead, and she wasn’t breathing, though she let out long gasps every few seconds. Her eyes began to glaze over and slowly close. I knew something was terribly wrong.

Addie opened the window and I asked her to call 911, and to see if anyone knew CPR. Melody, still strapped to my stomach, began to cry. Scout was standing beside us, but Teresa lay on top of her leash, so she couldn’t go anywhere. I kept talking to Teresa, telling her to wake up, and even smacked her cheeks lightly, thinking that might bring her to consciousness. Addie ran out of the building, handed her cell phone to me so I could talk to the 911 operator, and she took Melody out of the Snuggly so that I could give my full attention to Teresa. I was afraid to move Teresa because I didn’t know what happened to her, thinking she maybe had hit her head or something. The operator began to ask many questions and talk me through CPR. At that moment, a lady came running up and said she knew CPR, and she began administering it on Teresa (I later found out she was a nurse). The operator continued to talk to me and told me to encourage her to continue administering CPR. I remember looking up the sidewalk and seeing Addie trying to comfort Melody, who was crying quite loudly.

It seemed to take forever, but the paramedics finally arrived. I hung up the phone with the operator and the paramedics quickly moved Teresa over to the sidewalk. One paramedic expressed his displeasure after getting tangled in Scout’s leash and yelled at me, and I yelled right back that Teresa had fallen on top of the leash and we couldn’t get it out of the way until she was moved. He seemed to understand and changed his tune.

I watched as the paramedics shocked Teresa a couple of times with the defibrillators before a police officer asked me to step inside the school. A crowd had gathered by this time, including much of the school’s custodial staff and some students, as well as other passersby. One of the custodians took care of Scout for me.

I tried calling my parents on my cell phone, but there was no answer. I left a message and tried calling the Shirlens. They weren’t home either. The police began asking me questions about what had happened and I tried to answer them as well as I could. I kept looking outside to see what was going on, but I couldn’t see Teresa over the crowd. I was bothered that they had not taken her to the hospital yet. I felt this numbing tingle in my stomach and mid-section, much like when your foot falls asleep. I started to hyperventilate, but I tried to keep my wits about me.

The paramedics finally placed Teresa in the ambulance, and I gave Addie my phone list and told her to keep trying to call my parents and the Shirlens. I also gave her the keys to the Jeep and told her Melody’s diaper bag was in it. I left Melody and Scout with her and rode with a police officer behind the ambulance to Howard County General Hospital. I remember being puzzled that the ambulance was not going faster to the Hospital, but I kept holding out hope that everything would be fine. In fact, I was concerned about feeding Melody because Teresa might have to stay in the hospital for a few days.

My cell phone rang and it was Teresa’s mom, Lynda. She was very upset and I tried to tell her what happened. I don’t remember much of the conversation except that Jim, Teresa’s dad, got on the phone and I talked to him, too. They were on their way to the hospital.

I asked the police officer if he was a Christian. He said he was Catholic. I asked him to pray.

The officer parked on the side of the building next to the ambulance bays and I jumped out and started towards the ambulance. He stopped me, though, and went ahead to find out what was going on. They didn’t seem to want me to see her. I thought maybe she had a lot of wires and tubes connected to her and maybe that’s why they didn’t want me to see her. He then led me around to the main ER entrance. He said I should wait there while he talked to the desk nurse. I remember looking around and noticing a lot of people looking at me, but also thinking that I shouldn’t have to wait there because Teresa was already inside.

A few minutes later, he led me to a little room just off of the main ER. He asked me to wait there, and then asked if I needed anything to drink. I said, “Water,” and he left. I looked around the little room, with its little round table, several chairs, and little couches, and a Bible in the middle of the table. I began to panic, figuring this was the type of room where they give you bad news. I picked up the Bible and read a few verses, and I prayed to God that Teresa would be all right. I was still very panicked, so I tried calling my parents cell phone and reached my Mom. I think she could tell I was panicked because she immediately tried to comfort me. I don’t remember much of the conversation except that they were headed to the school to get Melody and Dad would then come to the hospital.

The officer brought a cup of water and asked if I needed anything else. I needed to use the rest room, so he led me back out to the main waiting room. Afterwards, I quickly rushed back to the little room hoping someone would give me more information. A hospital administrator came in and asked a lot of personal questions about Teresa and I gave her our insurance card. The officer came back and I asked him if someone could give me more information about what was happening. He left to find someone. Eventually, a man and a woman came in. The man was a doctor, the woman a hospital employee, from what I could tell. The doctor explained that, when Teresa arrived, the paramedics had been working on her for some time, but there was nothing they could do, that Teresa had passed away. I was in disbelief. My hope had evaporated, and all I could think about was poor Melody losing her mother at such an early age. The tears came and I began sobbing. The woman tried to comfort me, but I was pretty upset.

Then I heard an anguished scream from outside the door. It was Lynda. She rushed in and we tried to comfort each other. Jim came in a few minutes later. We tried to piece together what had happened as reality began to really hit home. After a few minutes, we asked if we could see Teresa, and we were led into the main ER room. They had closed the door to her room/bed, and we could only see her from a distance through the glass. They said that the police were still investigating and we couldn’t go in.

Carol and Marty A. came in around this time, followed shortly by Aunt Jody and my brother, Darren. Darren didn’t know she had died (actually, nobody did, and the news hit each one pretty hard as they found out), and he gave me a long, comforting, supportive hug, as did Jody. Many more began to show up: my parents, Jerry, Janice, Josh, Lauren, and Fred. Carol and Marty left to help with Melody at the school. Lynda and I sat outside Teresa’s room hoping for an opportunity to go in and be with her. The doctors and police wouldn’t let us, though. We went back to the little room to talk. Josh prayed. Nobody could believe this had really happened.

A little later, the detective assigned to the case called me into another little room and he explained that they would have to take Teresa’s body to the state morgue in Baltimore, and the medical examiner would do an autopsy. I asked if we could see her before they left, and he said we could not. He gave me Teresa’s shoes and her wedding band, the only jewelry she wore that evening. He gave me his contact information and offered his condolences.

I rejoined the family and we talked some more. Then we proceeded to the cars and everyone came back to our house. I rode with Jody and Fred. When we arrived, Ray and Margret were waiting for us. Gorham, our neighbor and a substitute teacher at the school, informed a few neighbors about what had happened. Addie had already called the entire school staff.

Shortly, Addie, Carol, and some other teachers came by with Melody, Scout, and our Jeep.

We all sat around and talked for a long time, well into the night.

I remember receiving a phone call at around 1:30 a.m. from the organ donor program. I was particularly upset that they would call at that hour. It seemed very insensitive to me.

Everyone went home a short time later. Mom & Dad stayed with me to help with Melody and Scout. I went to bed at around 2 or so.

I didn’t sleep much. I remember getting up to use the bathroom 3 or 4 times during the night. I know I was in shock. I certainly wasn’t rational. I couldn’t imagine what the next day would be like, or hour. I was completely overwhelmed by everything. And I kept visualizing what happened, over and over again, in my head. Every time I started to think about her really being gone, I got very nauseous. How could this happen? I remember looking at her side of the bed and thinking, we slept apart only 7 or 8 times, maybe, during our entire marriage! I felt so alone.

I got up around 6 or so. I knew today would be a hard day, as the task of letting people know what happened would take place. I remember first calling work and telling Donna, who was my supervisor a few years ago, and who would be one of the first people at work, what happened. That was a very hard call to make, and I know Donna was very upset over the news. She promised to let people know and that every thing would be taken care of at work, that I shouldn’t worry about anything. (I remember telling her that Brownsville Sectional was scheduled to go to the contractor that morning and was sitting on my desk, and that someone should move it to the pick-up area, and she told me to stop thinking about work.)

Melody awoke and seemed to take to the bottle very well. We had about 10 bags of breast milk that Teresa had pumped over the last few weeks, and we treated it like gold. We had given Melody a bottle a few times before, so it wasn’t a huge adjustment. We were more worried about her taking formula. She seemed oblivious to the turmoil we were feeling. Mom & Dad were so supportive. Scout seemed to sense something was wrong, and in the days ahead, she went into a bit of a depression.

Jim & Lynda came back over. I know there were other visitors, as well, including Linda H., who would provide so much support over the next few weeks, answering phones and bringing food.

I think I must have been in a daze, still, as I don’t really remember much else. I talked to the organ donor people for a very long time. They needed a complete medical history. Teresa was a donor and we agreed to go through with it. The person that called the night before was with a research organization that studied brain disorders, different than the “official” organ donation organization, and a second representative called to give me more information. They wanted a “healthy” brain to study. I was still upset by their phone call the night before and declined.

I remembered that my milkshake was still in the Jeep, obviously melted and certainly not very tasty anymore. Fortunately, it did not cause the car to stink.

Food began to arrive by the box full. And many visitors stopped by. Kristen and Elizabeth came by. Pastor Mark, from Grace Community Church, the church Teresa and I were attending, called and came by in the afternoon. We began thinking about and planning a funeral service, and details such as funeral home, cemetery, and things like that were discussed. Never in my life did I think that I would need to plan such things, at least at my age. Debby L. came by to help with funeral plans and support.

There were many phone calls. I remember talking to Jay, my boss; friend and co-worker Gary W.; cousins Paul & Dan; Lisa K, who I worked with for many years as a youth counselor; …each one offering prayers and emotional support.

Jim, Lynda, Mom, Dad and I went to Witzke Funeral Home and prepared things for Teresa’s funeral and burial, including casket choices, etc. Stephen, the director, took us through the entire process, and recommended a cemetery. I had to excuse myself at one point and broke down crying in the men’s room. I didn’t want to have to make these kinds of decisions, and I felt like the nightmare of losing Teresa was getting worse.

After making all of the funeral home arrangements, we went to Crest Lawn Memorial Gardens, a cemetery in Marriottsville. Again, the process of having to choose a burial plot and headstone was overwhelming. I felt nauseous. I still couldn’t believe this was happening. Less than 24 hours after eating dinner and going for a family outing, I was planning my wife’s funeral! Kathleen gave us a lot of information and we toured the cemetery and chose 2 plots in the “Garden of Gethsemane”, near the watchful eye of a statue of Jesus. It seemed appropriate, since Teresa had visited the actual Garden of Gethsemane while touring Israel a few years ago, before I met her. It was also at this time that I realized just how expensive a funeral and burial cost. I would spare no expense for Teresa, but I wondered, how could the average family afford all of this?

Many visitors were waiting for us to come home: Rev. George & Mary A., Irene & Stephen, and several others. Michelle & Kevin B. had stopped by, too, but had to leave before we arrived home. Ray & Margret and Dan & Kristy came by, too.

Tuesday evening, Jim’s entire Korean congregation, it seemed, came by and had a prayer service and sing-along. I was pretty wiped out by the end of the day and remember drifting off to sleep to the sounds of their singing.

In the days that followed, many more visitors came by. Aunt Pat brought breakfast and donuts one morning, and took care of the baby for much of that morning. A large delegation from Montrose Baptist Church stopped by, including Pastor Moussa, Mark & Darla H., Curtis S., and Mark D. Jun & Jen came by, as well as Joanne G., Sandy & Michelle, Brook & Jennifer, Gorham, Nancy C., Ginny P., Melissa & Marty P., Jennifer Z., Cherice D. (who has since provided so many tips for helping us care for Melody), and many, many more. I wish I could remember everyone, and I hope that no one is offended if I did forget. Lauren, from across the street, offered breast milk, as did Kristy. Nancy & Jay C. brought over a huge basket of diapers and baby formula.

Reservoir High wanted to start a scholarship fund in Teresa’s name, and the students wanted to have a college fund for Melody. The students at Mt. Hebron High, where Teresa taught before coming to Reservoir, planted a tree in her memory. The students, teachers and staff of both schools were very supportive.

I am so appreciative of the support of everyone, for providing food, support with Melody, and prayer. I was and still am overwhelmed.

Scout was groomed one afternoon, followed by an appointment with her doctor for an annual checkup the next day. I informed the doctor of what happened and that Scout seemed to be in a depression. We agreed that she was probably mourning. Scout was in good health otherwise, fortunately.

I picked out a red dress for Teresa to wear, which Lynda agreed was perfect for her. I had given it to her a few Christmas’s ago. She always looked great in red.

The funeral service came together nicely. We picked 6 gentlemen to be pallbearers: Gorham (our neighbor and a substitute teacher at the school), Gary B. (who Teresa knew from Montrose Baptist Church when they were in the youth group together), Darren (Teresa’s brother-in-law), Jerry L. (Teresa’s Godfather), Dan (my cousin and who introduced Teresa and I to each other), and Josh (Teresa’s only fraternal cousin). Jun agreed to sing the Lord’s Prayer, just as he did at our wedding. Mark, the pastor of Grace Community Church, will officiate at the church; Rev. George A. (my pastor from the church I grew up in, and who participated in our wedding ceremony) will say a prayer, read scripture, and officiate at the cemetery; and Addie (Teresa’s boss), Carol (Teresa’s long-time co-worker), Jennifer, Elizabeth, and Kristen (her three Ya-Ya friends from college), Ray (who officiated at our wedding), and several current and former students, will eulogize her. Two students wrote a rap song in her memory, which will be played. We planned to show the video of the photomontage from our wedding, in addition to pictures of key moments since then.

Thursday night was the first viewing at the funeral home. It was very overwhelming. Teresa, in some ways, didn’t look right, her mouth in particular. I kept reminding myself that it was just her body, not her. Her body was affected by the organ donations, as well. A thought popped into my head, after seeing her during those first few minutes, that Teresa did not live to experience her first Mother’s Day. That made me very sad. Rev. A. shared some scripture and thoughts, and prayed with us, the immediate family, before the doors were opened. It meant a lot to us. Lauren agreed to care for Melody at the funeral home, and that was much appreciated (weeks later, she offered to be Melody’s nanny. What an answered prayer she is!). It turned into a long evening for Melody, though, and we decided she would stay home the following evening.

Many relatives, friends, students, co-workers (hers and mine), and so many other people stopped by. I was drained by the end of the evening. It was so nice to see so many people, but I just hated that it was under these circumstances. It was also an emotional time for everyone.

A young lady introduced herself to me. Sara Z., a co-worker of Teresa’s, shared with me that she had lost her fiancĂ© in a car accident a few years ago. Someone had shared a book with her, which she gave to me, about a man who lost his wife, mother, and daughter in a car accident, and how he was able to get his life back together through his faith. She said the book encouraged her so much. She is engaged again. She said Teresa was such an inspiration to her because of her faith, and she shared a lot of good advice with her about marriage.

I met a lot of Teresa’s former students, as well, and some parents of students she taught, and I enjoyed hearing stories they shared about her, including the “Quiz Song”, which she had sung to me several times before.

The next day, it was more of the same. Lisa K., who I worked with as a youth counselor for quite a few years, flew in from Cincinnati. She dropped by the house with an email letter from her daughter, Erin, mother of 3 young children, who lost her husband in a car accident a year-and-a-half ago. It was full of encouragement. Only someone who has been through something like this can possibly identify with what you’re going through.

At the funeral home, many more co-workers stopped by, as well as lots of family, many who came back for the evening viewing, as well. In between, much of the family came back to my house for a delicious dinner provided by one of Darren’s friends.

After a draining two days, the next day would be the hardest. That morning, I found a video drama that Teresa and I had performed on Easter Sunday 2000. I added it to the service so that Teresa could make an appearance at her funeral, and so that seeing her so alive would provide a better memory of her to those attending than the previous 2 days. The skit was one of the most well received that we had done while leading the drama team at Montrose.

Two limos, furnished by the funeral home, picked us up, with Mom & Dad, Jim & Lynda, Angie, Melody, and I in one car, and Jerry & Janice, Jody & Fred, Josh, Lauren, and Darren in the other. They took us to the funeral home for one last moment with Teresa. I placed the note from the bottle from our engagement at Sandy Point, along with a copy of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, one of Scout’s balls, and a few pictures of Melody and I, in the casket with her. When a plaster handprint didn’t work, we received a lock of her hair.

The limos took us to Grace Community Church. There were well over 500 people attending! The service was so wonderful, and moving, and emotional, and eclectic, and musical, and memorable, and very spiritual. I’m sure it’s what Teresa would have wanted it to be, if it had to be at all. The service was audio and video taped, and I have since listened to the service over and over again, and I cry, laugh, and remember everything that was said every time.

It was one of the longest processions I’ve ever seen. Almost everyone who attended the funeral also went to the cemetery. The only thing I regret is that I was asked to ride in the hearse, when I would rather have ridden with the rest of the family in the limo. Still not sure why I was asked, nor why I agreed to it. It was not an enjoyable ride.

Rev. A. did a very moving graveside service, and, afterward, we each took a yellow rose, Teresa’s favorite, and walked back to the cars. It was a beautiful, sunny, breezy day, one I’m sure Teresa would have enjoyed.

We drove back to the church for a very nice luncheon and reception. Much of the family and close friends joined us. It was such a sad occasion, but a wonderful opportunity to spend time with our loved ones.

It was so nice of Grace Community Church to host the reception. They would provide me with a lot of support over the next few months. I still don’t know the names of so many that have helped me, but Pastor Mark and Debby & Jerry L. were wonderful.

The days to follow are almost harder, in a lot of ways. I have benefited from a wonderfully supportive family. Mom & Dad and Jim & Lynda, as well as Angie, have been with me constantly, mostly to help me with Melody’s care, but also so that we can support and love each other. I’m so appreciative of their thoughtfulness and support. I can’t do it without them, and I love them so much.

Melody seems to grow and evolve every day. I am humbled that this little girl, who I love so much, and who loves me so unconditionally, each day, when I arrive home from work, wants me to place her on my lap, and we sit on the couch and talk about our day (I talk, she babbles), perfectly content to just sit there, until, resting her head on my stomach, she drifts off to sleep for her afternoon nap. She is such a happy baby, and she has such a great demeanor. Her personality is really coming out, and she is such a little clown. She’ll cock her head sideways and gives me a big smile, and I just laugh and laugh. She looks so much like Teresa and I am thankful that God has blessed me, not only with a beautiful little daughter, but also a piece of Teresa. I love her so much.

My faith remains strong, though I miss Teresa so much, and the grief is overwhelming at times. It’s impossible to describe, losing someone who was so much a part of me. We did so much together, from our big road trips (through 38 states!) to our daily routines. We packed a lot into the almost 5 years we were married. She made me so happy, and I know she was happy. This impacts everything that I do and will do, though. The effect on Melody, too, is immense, losing her mother at such a young age. But I know we will get through it because God is taking care of us. As long as we are faithful to Him, He will continue to bless us. And I know that Teresa is in a better place, experiencing the riches in Heaven. She is the lucky one. We are the ones that have to live here without her.

Teresa was as wonderful as everyone has said. She was human, so she was not perfect. But she knew Jesus as her Savior, and that is why I know she is in Heaven. I miss her so much. But I also know that I will see her again one day.


June 2004