Joy, Loss, and Friendship
When I arrived home from work on the evening of March 27th 2018 everything seemed calm and normal. Just like every other workday before, I would get home, help with dinner, get the kids bathed and into bed, clean up the kitchen and pick up the toys from the family room, and then hang out for a few minutes before taking a shower and going to bed. That’s the routine. It has been that way for a few years.
However, that night as a very very pregnant Ashley and I were getting dinner on the table, she’d stop every few minutes and brace herself. Braxton Hicks contractions she told me. Nothing to worry about. I started secretly timing them anyways. They were regular, 30 seconds long, and about 15 minutes apart. While Ashley was in denial, I knew she was going into labor.
At around 6:30PM I got a text from my sister Alisa asking what was going on with our other sister, Janelle. I had no idea what was going on.
Janelle had been diagnosed with stage 4b ovarian cancer late December 2017, and was fighting it like hell. She lived alone with her two cats in an apartment in Denver. A brilliant interior designer, a wicked sharp wit, a fiercely independent woman, and a giant heart, Janelle was a remarkable woman.
By early March when I flew out to spend time with her, the cancer had spread to her stomach, intestines, liver, stomach, and lungs. She had just gone through a round of chemo and had a drug given that helped the chemo be more effective, which had the unfortunate side effect of making her feel like her bones were on fire. This side effect was countered by a hefty dosage of morphine. Despite the situation we had a great time hanging out, chatting, debating politics & religion, eating Korean food, and doing what we normally would do. When it was time to fly home I gave her a hug, kissed her bald head, and we just sat and stared at each other for a few seconds saying nothing. It felt we were saying goodbye.
In a state of panic and confusion I texted and called my dad & mom, with no response. At about 7:30PM my dad called. He was very somber. Janelle had been put in hospice care and had at most 48 hours left. My siblings were going to be on the next flight out to Denver to be together, and he wanted to know if I could be there. With my wife in the next room in labor, I told my dad that I had to stay home because we were having a baby. I can’t imagine the chorus of emotions he felt as he heard that news while sitting next to my sister. He asked if I wanted to talk to Janelle.
Of course I did.
“Hey Janelle, what the heck?”
“Hi Scott, heard you are going to have a baby.”
“Yes. Not sure who to blame for the awful timing, you or the baby.”
I’ll save the details of the conversation, but it’s a really special and precious moment that I’ll never forget it. I told my parents I’d keep them in the loop, then hung up and went and cried on my laboring wife’s shoulder for a few minutes.
Then I realized I had other things going on. I convinced my wife she was in fact in labor, we talked to the doctor, called Ashley’s sister to come stay with the kids, and then got going to the hospital.
We arrived at McKay Dee Hospital at midnight, and Elwyn Scott Rafferty was born shortly after at 1:17AM on March 28th.
Almost 24 hours later at 3:00AM on March 29th I got a call from my parents saying that Janelle had passed away.
Revision Note ( 8/27/18): I had written out this long bloviating section about friendship. I’m not going to publish it. But I’ll keep it to this.
Over the last eight months it has become increasingly clear to me how important deep and meaningful relationship are to me. During a short 30 day window my son was born, my sister died, my dad found a malignant tumor on his bladder, and I got laid off. It was an emotionally and mentally intense period of my life. It was those friends who showed up with a simple text or call to see how I was doing that helped me in immeasurable ways. I know I can be a mediocre friend to them, but they will never understand how much they helped me work through some tough stuff by just showing up. And so to them, thank you can’t even begin to scratch the depths of my gratitude for their friendship.