The Hellhole

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Word From the Boss

Helly worked for her boss, Sandy Jones, pretty much her entire adult working life - just over 27 years. I think at one point she was a cashier at the local Kroger, and during college she worked at Neiman Marcus over the Christmas holidays wrapping presents, but those were just high school or temporary jobs. After college she took a job as an admin assistant at an advertising company here in Conyers, and was assigned to work for Sandy. When he left to form his own company several years later, Helly followed him as soon as she could. They had a very close relationship, and Helly often referred to him as “The World’s Greatest Boss.” Sandy and Helly were very loyal to each other, and Sandy was there and standing by her bedside when Helly passed from this world. 

When the details for the memorial service were being put together, I reached out to Sandy to ask if he’d say a few words. He was of course more than willing, and gave a great eulogy, the kind that only someone who knew her as well as he did could give:

Essence of Helly Bowman

Helly Bowman was a friend, confidant, loyal, wonderfully unique, funny, talented, snarky, eccentric, weird, unorthodox and beautiful human being, with whom I had the privilege to work with for over 27 years, sharing in my marriage to Leigh, the birth of our girls, Aubrey and Annie, the death of my mother, father, younger brother, Tim and a business partner and friend Don Hall.

More importantly, she was family.

Little known facts about Helly are that she had a master’s degree, wrote a book, played lead guitar in a punk rock band, had tattoos and probably piercings that I was not aware of.

She was a combination of Mimi of the Drew Carey Show, Thoreau, Edgar Allen Poe and Will Rogers.

She and I were the quintessential yin and yang, meaning we were seemingly opposite, yet complementary, interconnected and made each other and outcomes better when we worked together. We were of like mind in our conclusions, but always by differing paths.

Our journey began in 1989 when she and Ann Bryant were simultaneously hired at US Enterprises.Arbitrarily, Ann was assigned to work with Robert Jackson in Real Estate and Helly was assigned to work with me in the billboard company. And so our journey began.

After I left Corey in 1994, Helly was the first person I hired when our journey at Jones and Hall Ventures, Mahalo Works, Mahalo Marketing and Business Traveler Services began.

About ten years ago, Alan and Helly were married. In traditional shock and awe fashion. Helly and Alan surprised the guests when they cut the wedding cake dressed like Shrek and Fiona in celebration of having seen the Shrek movie on their first date.

By the way, additionally Helly was wearing a beautiful flowing white wedding dress with white patent leather combat boots. Don’t ask me why! That was just Helly being Helly.

Another aspect of Helly was her constant Hellyism as we called them.
Let me put this in perspective. As many of you know, I married Leigh of the Lockridge clan and was quickly introduced to Lockridgeisms. One example was an occasion in which Papa, Leigh’s Dad was proudly delivering a car to Leigh’s brother Frank who lived in a dorm at Auburn. While entering the dorm to surprise Frank, the Lockridge family noticed a huge front-end loader moving tons of dirt and rock around in the yard of the dorm. When they came back outside to showcase the surprise gift; the car was covered with a ton of dirt and rocks “mistakenly” dumped on the new car by an obviously untrained operator.

Hellyisms were a bit more subtle.

One day Helly calls to tell me that she was walking back to the office following lunch, and had slipped and fallen on the side-walk resulting in a slashing cut across her knee. I rushed to the office and immediately concluded that she needed to go to the emergency room.Once there, I asked her if she would remove the bloody towel so I could see the cut.
There it was, this nice long deep swirling cut across her knee that looked exactly like a smiley face. Helly will be glad to know that her isms are safely entrusted to the Lockridge family and continue.
Her nick names for folks were legendary and her eloquent use of the English language was entertaining. I won’t mention our customers nick names because I don’t want to offend any of you, but as an example of her talent she referred to her mammograms as a “boob smashing” appointment.

Another example of her wit is and I quote: “Never attribute to malice, that which can be easily explained as stewpidity. Not stoopid, but stewpid. The way she liked to pronounce it.

She was always attentive to the needs of others in deed and shout outs to others for their successes.Even during the darkest days of her own illness, she cried tears of joy when I shared with her the miraculous recovery of our friend Gail Putnal from a life threatening coma caused by a cerebral aneurism.

If she wasn’t a Christian, she fooled me, because she really acted like one.

Helly never had children. However, I sometimes think she considered me and many of my derelict buddies as her kids whom she took care of relentlessly planning our outings and handling all the details associated with them so I wouldn’t screw it up.

Over the years Helly demonstrated her commitment to me to the extent that I have told folks who asked me about it; that if I were to ask Helly to go lie down on the Downtown Connector, her only question would be, “northbound or southbound lane?”

She loved going to the Symphony with her Mom, Mikey and really enjoyed visiting the Atlanta Botanical Gardens with her husband Alan.
In fact, Alan is going to spread a dash of her ashes over their favorite spot at the Botanical Gardens.

Having gotten to know Alan during Helly’s illness, I learned he is a great guy, loves Helly, they had a wonderful marriage and Alan hates to throw away boxes, which drove her nuts.

Helly was a woman who was so organized that she arranged the condiments on her refrigerator door in alphabetical order from A-1 Sauce to Worcestershire Sauce. I personally witnessed that phenomenon. She couldn’t even say OCD, she would say CDO, because that is alphabetically correct.

Alan also told me that they made a bond when they got married to always be nice to people even if they didn’t deserve it. I can personally attest to that based on the village of friends that Helly made during her years of working at the Americas Mart. During her sickness and certainly after her passing, I never went to her office to get stuff or more recently remove stuff, that I wasn’t asked by numerous folks on her floor, managers, store owners, the postman and bank personnel in the adjoining building, “How is Helly?” They were all visibly devastated as we are about our loss.

To Helly’s parents and family you should be very proud.

To all of us friends she will be greatly missed.

I recently read the following that seemed so appropriate to end this celebration of Helly’s life: Be who God has made you to be and you will be free. Helly is free.

Thank you.

This is a picture I took a few years ago on one of the occasions when I worked from Helly's office. A few times a year I'd go into work with her, and we'd have lunch together and just spend the workday keeping each other company. Those are some of my fondest memories. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Getting Things Organized

I’m at the stage where I’m dealing with tidying up and organizing our financial life. Luckily for me, Helly was an accountant and also extremely organized, so I’m not finding a lot of stumbling blocks when it comes to sorting things out.

On Tuesday I met with her friend Phil, who was her personal banker when he worked at the bank branch in the building where Helly’s office was. Because she controlled a lot of money through her boss’s business accounts and investment accounts, the bank assigned her a personal banker so that she could always deal with the same person. Helly and Phil became good friends, recommending books and movies to each other and going to lunch from time to time. Phil moved to a different branch, but they kept in touch. So when it came time to start getting the finances in order, I reached out to him for help. Luckily he was willing and able to help me, so I drove up to the branch where he now works and spent a few hours with him getting Helly’s name off the joint accounts, making sure all those accounts were visible under my name, and starting the process to move her brokerage account into my name.

One thing I was happy to find is that all her personal credit cards carried a zero balance. Every. single. one. So instead of having to work out payment plans, I was able to just close the accounts. In fact, one of them actually owes me $30. That’s a testament to how thorough and meticulous Helly was when it came to our finances, and that is giving me a great foundation to start from. In fact, most of my credit cards (all two of them) are very close to being paid off, thanks to Helly being aggressive when she was able to with the payments.

I’m also working through the process to get the estate probated. Helly’s friend of many years, Cheryl, is a paralegal who specializes in probate and gave me a long checklist of items to gather for her so she could start that process. I’ve spent the past few days gathering files, sending e-mails, making calls, and putting together a spreadsheet with all the info Cheryl needed so she can file the petition with the probate court. I’m waiting on some paperwork from the mortgage company, and once I have that it will just be a matter of waiting for the petition to wind its way through court.

Having people like Phil and Cheryl to help me through this has been invaluable. I’m a smart guy, and I could have certainly figured all this out on my own… eventually. But being able to turn to people who do this kind of thing day in and day out has made the process so much easier.

I had planned to work on the financial and probate stuff in the mornings, and work on my job search in the afternoons, but it’s just been easier to focus on the financial stuff and get it done. Within the next few days I’m going to start the job hunt in earnest, and I’ve already got a list of a few companies to contact. Helly’s friend Ann gave me the number of the recruiter who placed her at a recent job and even called him to make an introduction, and my cousin Kenny, who knows pretty much everybody, is willing to contact some people he knows who might need a tech writer. Helly’s old boss Sandy has also asked for my resume, and he’ll get that in front of a lot of people, because he knows pretty much everybody too.

On a more personal note, I took my diploma to Michael’s today to get it framed. I choose a dark wood and the lady at the framing counter helped to choose the matting. I should get it back in about two weeks, and then I’ll find a place to hang it on the wall here in the office. I worked hard for that piece of paper, so why not show it off? I’ll post a picture once I have it back.

I also got a nice velvet bag for the box that Helly’s ashes are in, so that they can sit on the bookshelf behind my desk while I decide on an urn. I like to think that she’s looking over my shoulder as I work. I know she wouldn’t have wanted just the plain box to sit there, so the bag is a nice dark red color that she often had on her fingernails. I’ve got a picture of the two of us next to it, and her favorite stuffed animal leaning against it, and one of the many Ganesha statuettes she had around the house  is standing guard in front. I’ve been looking at urns, but nothing really stands out just yet. I’m sure I’ll find something eventually.

To close, here is one of my favorite pictures of Helly. We had stopped at a local family-owned bakery on the way back from visiting friends, and she had purchased a few small containers of buttercream icing, because Helly loved buttercream icing. It was one of the only sweets she ever ate. So when we got home I took this picture of her sticking her tongue into the icing to send to… someone, I don’t remember who. But I’ve always loved this picture.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Remembering Helly

Today was Helly’s memorial service. It was probably a little less than an hour long, with her Uncle Larry speaking first, then Helly’s boss of 27 years Sandy Jones spoke for a few minutes, and after he spoke I said a few words. And yes, I took out my phone and took a picture of the people in the chapel, because I'll want to remember later just how many people were there.

As per my request and going by what I knew Helly would have wanted, it was not a religious ceremony. No hymns were sung, no prayers offered, and her uncle, who is a retired Methodist minister, spoke as her uncle and not as a minister. The memorial opened with “Le Mer,  From Dawn to Noon On The Sea (Movement 1)” by Debussy, one of Helly’s favorite classical pieces, as played by the Greenville Symphony Orchestra where Helly’s brother plays double bass and is their Director of Education. "Amazing Grace" played at the very end, and keeping with Helly’s Scots/Irish heritage it was a version played on bagpipes.

I have to admit I was overwhelmed at the number of people at the memorial service. I knew that there were going to be friends and family there, but the chapel at the funeral home was overflowing with people, and there were even people in a parlor off to the side listening in. Seeing that many people there to remember Helly was really amazing. We had a friend who flew in from Austin, TX, and one of my cousins came in from Ithaca, NY, along with his mom from Asheville, NC. Several of my former coworkers, both from my most recent job and the job before that were there, as were many of Helly’s coworkers and business colleagues and acquaintances. I spoke to quite a few people before and after the service, and everyone had a great Helly story or remembrance.

Now I’m home, with a box containing Helly’s ashes and the guest book from the service, and the closure of 10 years of marriage. But life goes on: come Monday morning I need to start looking for a new job, meaning I need to update my resume and LinkedIn profile, get a portfolio website put together, and start making lists of companies I want to apply to. Helly’s friend Cheryl, who is a paralegal, has given me a checklist of things to start on so I can get the probate process moving forward, and on Tuesday I meet with one of Helly’s friends at the bank to move all our joint accounts into my name. I’ve got the dogs to take care of, and the house to keep up, and a list of projects I need to tackle. I’ve got stuff to keep me busy and friends and family to keep tabs on me, but I know it will be a struggle for a while as I work though it.

I’m going to end this with the text of my remarks at Helly’s service. I went a little bit “off script” from time to time, but this is the gist of what I said:

“Thank you everyone for being here. Helly hated being the center of attention, but I'm sure she would have been flattered knowing how many people were willing to be here today to remember her. I know some of you traveled quite a ways to be here - one of my cousins is here from Ithaca, NY, his mom is here from Asheville, and one of our very good friends is here from Austin, TX. I also see some of Helly's friends from the Mart, her coworkers, people from our tai chi class, and a lot of friends and family and extended family, all people who loved Helly and wanted to be here to say goodbye.

I'll keep this short. Helly had a saying that she'd use whenever we were driving along and listening to the radio and the DJ would start droning on: Less Yakkin', More Rockin'! Then she'd start surfing around the radio channels trying to find  someone playing music instead of talking. "I don't care what's on," she'd say, "I just want to know what else MIGHT be on..."

I'm sure some of you have noticed that I'm not wearing proper funeral attire. And indeed, this was a major pet peeve of Helly's. If she was here now I would have never been allowed to leave the house dressed like this. However, there is a reason I'm wearing this shirt - this was the first thing Helly ever bought me. When we started dating she took one look at my wardrobe, which was mostly dark blue, dark green, gray, and black, and I'm quoting her, "all the colors of a bruise..." and decided I needed something with stripes. A week or so after she bought it for me, I wore it work, but didn't really think much about it. About an hour after I had been at work, my  boss, who was a woman, and several of my female coworkers surrounded my desk, and my boss asked - "who is she?" I replied that I wasn't sure what she was talking about, so she said, " would have never bought that shirt yourself, and I know you haven't been home to visit your folks in a while, so your mom didn't buy that. So someone bought that for you... who is she?" So that's how they found out I was dating Helly, and that is one of my favorite stories to tell whenever I wear this shirt or just see it in the closet. So, that's why I'm wearing this shirt. I'm also wearing the pocket watch she bought me just a few months ago for our 10th anniversary, but I don't have a funny story about the watch. It's just a really nice watch...

Even though Helly wasn't a religious person, I still like think that she's enjoying a nice afterlife. Not one with cherubs and harps and all that, but more like one filled with dogs and cats and books and music.  We were members at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and there is a beautiful water feature there with a pool and waterfall, and a giant earth goddess made out of plants who has water flowing from her outstretched hand into a pool. Whenever Helly and I would go to the Garden, maybe six or seven times a year over the past three years, this was somewhere we would always stop, and it was often the first place we went to when we arrived. We'd sit there and relax for a half hour or so, and then go to see whatever exhibit or event we originally came to the Garden for.

So in my mind, she's somewhere like that - on a nice fall day, because Helly hated sweating, and sitting on a bench, because she hated the thought of sitting on the ground and getting dirty almost as much as she hated the thought of sweating - with a stack of books to choose from, fun games on her iPad, updates to all her favorite blogs and websites, and all her favorite music available. No yakkin', just rockin'. There is a cheese plate nearby, and since it's her afterlife she's enjoying a glass of wine too. Sprocket and Finnovar are curled up on the bench with her, and every now and then Fudge and Smidgen and Satchel and Bucky come by. She knows that one by one three little chihuahuas will eventually show up, but that won't be for a while yet because they've still got to keep me company for some years to come. She doesn't mind; she's got plenty of time. She's happy, healthy, whole, and free of pain.

So that's where I see her, happy and at peace, with the things she loved around her, and probably wondering why we're making such a big fuss. And that's where I want you to think of her, whenever she might cross your mind. 

Again, thank you all for coming today.”

And thank you all for reading this. This blog is the best way to remember Helly - I've been told by several friends that they'll just pick a random date and start reading from there and re-remembering all the funny stories.

To close, I'm going to link to two songs by Neko Case, one of my absolute favorite artists and someone who is amazing to see live. I would honestly pay money to see Neko just open a phone book and start singing the words on the page.

The first is Helly's favorite, a live version of "I Wish I Was The Moon" off the album Blacklisted (2002).

The second is one of my favorites, "Magpie To The Morning" off the album Middle Cyclone (2009).

I'm going to include the lyrics for "Magpie To The Morning," because I find the last verse very comforting right now.

"Magpie To The Morning"

Magpie comes a-calling, drops a marble from the sky,
Tin roof sounds alarming, wake up child,
Let this be a warning, says the magpie to the morning,
Don't let this fading summer pass you by,
Don't let this fading summer pass you by,

Black hands held so high,
The vulture wheels and dives,
Something on the thermals yanked his chain,
He smelled your boring apex,
Rotting on the train tracks,
He laughed under his breath because you thought that you could outrun sorrow,

Take your own advice,
This thundering and lightning gets you rain,
You run an airtight mission, a Cousteau expedition,
to find a diamond at the bottom of the drain,
A diamond at the bottom of the drain,

(Here I go)
Mockingbird sings in the middle of the night,
All his songs are stolen so he hides,
He stole them out from whiporwills,
And screaming car alarms,
He sings them for you special,
He knows you're afraid of the dark,

Come on, sorrow, take your own advice,
Hide under the bed, turn out the light,
Stars this night in the sky are ringing out,
You can almost hear them saying,
Close your eyes now kid,
Close your eyes now kid,
Morning's teeth are lit,
They are waiting,
They are waiting.

Helen Michelle Aurora Bowman
September 15th, 1966 - September 1st, 2016
Beloved wife, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and friend
Rest now, angel, you are forever my sweetheart

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A matter of degrees

A few people have said that I should continue updating here as a way to work through everything surrounding Helly’s passing. I can’t promise a lot of updates, but I think I might have a few more things to say…

Today I picked up my diploma from Clayton State University (CSU). For the past four years I’ve been working full-time and going to school part-time in order to finish my bachelor’s degree. For various reasons I dropped out of college the first time around, and until recently I never really needed a four year degree. However, I realized that if I wanted to continue my career as a technical writer, or move into any other white-collar profession, I would need to be able to check the box that said “College degree - Yes.” It wouldn’t matter what the degree was in, it just mattered that I had a degree. CSU had a program that I could attend mostly online, and was fairly affordable, so that’s where I went. And for those not local or familiar with CSU, it’s a “senior unit of the University System of Georgia” which means it’s a fully accredited state university, not some for-profit degree mill. 

So for the past four years, during the week we would eat supper and watch Jeopardy together, and then I’d head back to the study to do school work. I generally took three classes a semester, and went every summer in order to speed up the process. Some nights Helly would sit on the couch and read or watch TV, and some nights she’d go back to the master bedroom and sit on the bed and read or watch TV. I always liked this, because from my desk I could just look across the hall and see her and talk to her. On the weekends I’d start on my school work earlier in the afternoon after we’d run any errands, and she’d nap or read or watch a movie.

This was not always without some friction. On a few occasions she got angry with me for spending what she thought was too much time on school, and not enough time with her. This especially happened if school conflicted with something she wanted us to do together, or had decided that we should do together and was telling me after the fact. And to be honest, there were a few times I used school as an excuse to get out of something I didn’t really want to do, like go to the symphony (I just find classical music boring). I always tried to be mindful of her needs, but I would also remind her that me being in school was temporary, and that the benefits of me having a degree would be better earnings, better jobs, and better opportunities for both of us in the long run (wow, it hurt to type that…). She was usually accepting of that, and I have heard from a mutual friend that she was actually proud of me for working so hard and doing so well in school.

So now I’m sitting here looking at a diploma that I worked very hard to earn, but instead of seeing the cost being all my hard work (and money), I just see the cost of the time I didn’t spend with Helly. I know that having the diploma will help me with my job prospects and open doors that would have been closed otherwise, but right now it’s hard to look at it without feeling some regret and guilt. As I mentioned in a previous post, finishing my degree was one of the things I was really looking forward to in 2016. And I was really looking forward to having all that time free again so that we could start doing some new things together. But right now it just feels like a hollow achievement.

Friday, September 02, 2016

A (hopefully final) brain dump

Due to the circumstances around Helly's passing, I felt I needed to write down some of my thoughts that were outside of the more clinical narrative from earlier. I'm still reeling from and dealing with the fact that I had to make the decision and sign on the dotted line to allow my wife to die. Yes, she was going to die anyway, but she could have held on for days or weeks, and that would not have been her wishes. So I had to put my name on a legal piece of paper allowing the hospital to remove the drugs that were keeping her alive so that she could pass away. That's something that I think will weigh on me for quite some time, even though I know it was the right decision to make. So please bear with me (hopefully) one last time as I try to bring some closure to this.

2016 was supposed to be a great year for us. I had some seriously good plans for 2016. It started out with us seeing both Wilco shows at the Tabernacle in February, combined with staying at the big Westin in downtown Atlanta and having lunch at the Sundial Restaurant. That was such a good time, and looking back, the last really good and carefree time we had together. 2016 was also the year I was going to finish school after four years of working full-time and going to school part-time, and I had hoped that having my nights and weekends free again would allow us to do more things together like maybe take a yoga class or a different tai chi class… anything to get us off the couch and to get started on getting fitter. We were also looking forward to taking a trip for our 10th anniversary in May, and seeing the Chihuly exhibit at the Botanical Garden several times, which we had been excited about since the end of 2015. I had also gotten us tickets to see Neko Case, kd lang, and Laura Viers at the Botanical Garden on July 29th, the week that school ended. I bought those the day they went on sale. I also got tickets for us to see Tyco at Variety Playhouse in late September, because “surely I’ll be doing OK by then..” she said.

Instead, 2016 has been anything but great. Other than the Wilco shows, we weren’t really able to do anything. Instead of a trip for our anniversary in May, we bought each other gifts, but we were both disappointed we couldn’t do a bigger celebration. She was so weak by then that just walking around the house exhausted her. We never got to see the Chihuly exhibit, had to miss the Case/lang/Viers show (she wanted me to go, but she was too weak to be alone by then), and she was barely able to go out for our Dateversary on July 3rd (our 12th Dateversary). Even me finishing school was anti-climatic, because she was so weak that we couldn’t even go out to celebrate. Instead I cooked a nice meal that she poked at a bit, but didn’t eat much of. And a little over a month after I finished school on July 25th, I was calling 911 to have her admitted to the hospital, and she never came home.

So now I’m sitting at home, in a house that used to be full of my stuff and her stuff and our stuff but is now just full of things. Helly lived here for about 12 years before I moved in, and even though I’ve lived here for 11 years, the entire house is a reflection of her and her tastes. The color on the walls, the curtains, the lamps, the furniture, everything is her. Now it’s just walls and window treatments and places to sit and lie down. I go into the bathroom and instead of seeing Helly’s makeup and nail polishes and other “girly” stuff, I just see things on a counter. On the table in the kitchen is the purse I bought her for her birthday a few years ago, but instead of being full of her wallet and lipsticks and other things that women carry around there are now just things in there. I have three closets full of things, bookcases full of things, dressers and cabinets full of things. There is a storage unit that is now just full of things. All of these things I’ll need to deal with, but that will have to be another day.

Her desk is stacked with paperwork that I need to sort through, and I’ll eventually need to sort out our financial life, including what to do about the house and all the things ancillary to that. I have no real love or attachment to this house or where we live; my only attachment to this house or town is no longer among the living. I’ve got to get the title to her car and eventually deal with her very nice but extremely impractical and expensive to maintain car, as well as her retirement accounts and all the things that go with being an adult. And let me just say that right now adulting is not very fun.

And to add insult to injury, I was let go from my job on August 19 (needs of the business, and my former employers were very generous with my severance package). We weren’t originally worried about that, because Helly was still working for her boss of 27 years, and she had always made more than I did. The idea was that I would take care of her until she was well again, and then look for another job. But now that’s gone, and in the midst of dealing with all of this I’m going to have to also concentrate on finding a new job. Thankfully we have a few months in savings, and if I can access her retirement accounts fairly quickly I’ll be OK for a while (months, not years), but that’s still on my mind.

But right now I’ve got all the dogs napping under the desk, and I have friends and family willing to come and see me if I need them. I know people are there for me, and that I’ll be OK, but it’s not easy. I liked being married. Being married was pretty much the best thing I’ve ever done. I liked saying “…my wife and I….” I liked being someones husband and knowing she often said “…my husband and I….” I liked being part of something bigger than myself, and knowing I had someone to support me like I supported her. Having that anchor in my life was something that I had come to really rely on, and now that’s gone. I think that’s what hurts the most.

The Rest of the End of Story...

A few people have asked the details of Helly’s passing, so I thought I’d explain some of that here. Around the first of the year Helly started complaining of being really tired all the time, which she attributed to being stressed at work. I asked her to go to the doctor, but she said she was too busy and would make the appointment around the time of her yearly OBGYN checkup, which would be in April. I wasn’t happy about this, but Helly could be stubborn.

During her OBGYN checkup, the doctor didn’t like what she felt during the pelvic exam, and also noted that Helly was starting to look like she had jaundice. She told Helly that she needed to go to her GP and get checked out, which Helly finally did. The GP immediately ordered a CT scan and a lot of blood work. The blood work showed that she was anemic, and that her thyroid had quit working, but the CT scan showed a lot of ascites (fluid in the abdomen) and a fatty liver and spleen. She was prescribed medicine for her thyroid, iron for the anemia, and an appointment with a gastroenterologist about the liver. It was at this point that she was also told that her liver issues could be the result of excessive drinking, so she quit drinking completely. She was also told that she shouldn’t be driving due to the anemia, so she started working from home as much as she could.

The gastroenterologist also took a lot of blood and ordered an endoscopy, because at this point she had started to lose a lot of weight, which Helly attributed to stress and not having any appetite. He also diagnosed a fatty liver and spleen, and told her that not drinking was the best thing she could be doing. Nothing turned up on the endoscopy, so he prescribed some kind of acid reflux medicine in an attempt to help her appetite.

At this point, for reasons I’m not going to comment on, and if you know this part of the story do not comment on them either because of things that may happen at a future time, Helly decided that she wanted to change doctors because she was not satisfied with her care. She started seeing a doctor associated with her allergist, who took one look at her blood work (her hemoglobin counts were in the 7s, and for women they are generally in the 12s) and immediately sent her to a hematologist. The hematologist diagnosed her with what’s called hemolytic anemia, meaning that her body was destroying its red blood cells. The problem was that he couldn’t understand why. She had a transfusion to add some blood which boosted her hemoglobin count a bit (into the 8s), and started her on prednisone. Prednisone is a very nasty drug, and it affected her balance and also kept her up all night. It also didn’t really work, as her hemoglobin counts never got above the high 8s.

The hematologist had said all along that he also suspected an issue with Helly’s liver, so he made her an appointment with a gastroenterologist that he was confident in. He also wanted to start her on a drug called Rituxan, which would work where prednisone hadn’t.

The new gastroenterologist looked at the previous medical history, and ordered an MRI and additional blood work. This was on Monday, August 8th. She also sent Helly to the hospital for a procedure called paracentesis, where they removed the fluid that had been accumulating in her abdomen. Six liters of fluid were removed. However, that process, and the 14 hour day around it, totally wiped her out. The next two days she spent in bed totally out of it, and after that I basically had to start helping her do, well… most everything.

At the next appointment, on the 22nd of August, the gastroenterologist came back with a diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver, but with a complicating factor of something called hemochromatosis, which is an unusual genetic disease that causes the liver to “overload iron” into the body and can do damage to the liver and internal organs. The gastroenterologist said that this was unusual enough that she wanted Helly to work directly with a liver specialist at Emory, because the cirrhosis plus the hemochromatosis plus the hemolytic anemia was too complex for her to safely manage.

On Friday the 26th of August, Helly had the first Rituxan treatment. By this point, I was having to lift her into a wheelchair in order to get her to the bathroom, and was having to lift her on and off the toilet and pick her up to put her in or out of the car, because she had become so malnourished and weak that she wasn’t able to stand. It was also at some point in this week that I apparently broke on of her ribs while lifting her up, but she didn’t really say anything about it at the time.

On the morning of Saturday the 27th, she asked me to get her to the ER because the pain in her side from the rib was too great. I called the ambulance, and they took her to Rockdale Medical. She was very dehydrated and in a lot of pain, so they gave her morphine. Looking at her condition, the doctors decided to admit her into the hospital, and we got up to a room around 6pm or so. She ate dinner, the first solid food I’d seen her eat in a while (I had been buying her those high calorie Ensure drinks), and around 10pm I went home. She was up, talking, coherent, and gave me a list of things to bring on Sunday.

At 3:30am Sunday morning the nurse called, telling me she was very agitated and confused, and kept fighting them about keeping her oxygen on. They were also having problems keeping her blood pressure up. I immediately went back to the hospital (I got there around 4am) and stayed with her all day Sunday trying to keep her from taking out her oxygen. Around mid-morning on Sunday I spoke to a gastroenterologist at the hospital, who told me she was in liver failure and that she was suffering from hepatic encephalopathy, which is a type of mental confusion caused by the liver not removing toxins from the blood. He also confirmed the previous diagnosis of “decompensated cirrhosis,” meaning that the liver was no longer able to keep up with filtering toxins from the body,  and was very interested in the hemochromatosis. From his description, while her drinking certainly played a factor in her liver issues, the hemochromatosis was the key component. He also said that her only hope would be a liver transplant, but unfortunately she was still months away from even being on a transplant list. He prescribed a treatment with lactulose, which removes the ammonia from the body and would clear up some of her mental confusion. This worked, somewhat, and for a time on Sunday she recognized me and was able to answer yes or no to things. He also ordered another paracentesis, which removed 3 liters of fluid from her abdomen. Then early Monday morning, around 3:30am, the doctors made the call to move her to ICU because they could not keep her blood pressure up or her oxygen levels up.

My mom and brother came up to visit Monday afternoon in ICU, and Helly was coherent enough to recognize them and also interact a bit, but after that the lactulose treatments stopped working. From Monday evening until the end she was mostly incoherent and eventually non-responsive.

Because she was in ICU, I went home Monday night to get some sleep. When I came back on Tuesday morning she had been put on a bi-pap machine to help stabilize her breathing, and was on drugs to boost her blood pressure. It was at this point that I spoke to the doctors who told me that along with everything else, she had a massive infection of e-coli and sepsis, and was on antibiotics. They had a tiny bit of hope, but not much. On Wednesday, I spoke to the doctors again, and at that point I was told that she was not going to survive. I signed the DNR (do not resuscitate) order, meaning that I didn’t want her intubated or CPR performed or any procedures undertaken that would cause her pain or suffering, and that I wanted to her to pass naturally and at peace. I was asked to wait 24 hours just to see if the antibiotics would work, and I guess to also make sure I was still OK with my decision. I spent Wednesday night in the ICU with her, just listening to her breathe and talking to her as I could, and telling her stories about things we had done or things the dogs had done that I knew she always liked hearing about.

On Thursday, September 1st, after consulting with the doctors and nurses in ICU, and being again told that she was non-responsive and would not survive, I made the decision to move her to palliative care and in-hospital hospice, meaning she would stay in the same ICU room but the hospice staff would attend her.  I called the family and nearby friends, and once everyone was there the hospice doctor took her off the drugs that were keeping her blood pressure up, removed the antibiotics, and gave her Ativan and morphine to make sure she felt no pain. This started at 1:05pm, and at 2:20pm her heart stopped, and she was gone. She went surrounded by friends and family, with pictures of the dogs taped to the wall nearby and with her wedding rings on her finger. It was as peaceful as something like that could be.

I want to thank all our family and friends who have been there to support both Helly and I throughout this process, and who are standing by me now that she has gone. I will also state that the care Helly received at Rockdale Medical, especially in ICU, was phenomenal. I'm doing the best I can, given the circumstances. The dogs know something is wrong, but of course I can't really tell them in words.

I’m going to end this with some lyrics from Death Cab for Cutie, from their song “What Sarah Said” that has been going through my mind this last week. Emphasis is mine.

What Sarah Said

And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to father time
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU that reeked of piss and 409
And I rationed my breaths as I said to myself that I'd already taken too much today
As each descending peak on the LCD took you a little farther away from me
Away from me

Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines in a place where we only say goodbye
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds
But I knew that you were a truth I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground as the TV entertained itself

'Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads
But I'm thinking of what Sarah said that "Love is watching someone die"

So who's going to watch you die?..

Thursday, September 01, 2016

This is the end...

Hello to any one reading this blog. This is from Helly's husband, Alan. Helly passed away today, September 1st, 2016, from complications due to liver failure and an infection. She was two weeks shy of her 50th birthday.

Helly was a beloved wife, daughter, sister, niece, aunt, and friend. She will be missed by all that knew her.

Hopefully her blog brought you some amusement over the years. Helly and I actually met through her blog, after I commented on a post about seeing someone drive off from a gas pump with the hose still attached. We were together for 12 years, and had just celebrated our 10th anniversary in May of 2016.

Thanks, and make sure to tell the people that you love how much you love them.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

I dreamed that I went to IKEA with Val Kilmer, and he wanted us to watch this cooking demonstration.  I wasn't interested (it involved asparagus) so I wandered off through the store.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that IKEA had placed waitresses in strategic locations who were giving out free Cosmopolitans.  I had a couple and was enjoying one as I looked at a display of water features.  [Does IKEA sell water features?  I've never been to IKEA.]  At that point Val caught up to me and said we had to get our stuff and go.  This made me very angry and I kept yelling that I didn't want any cheap, ugly, Dutch furniture.  I threw such a tantrum that Val had to summon Alan to remove me from the premises.

When I related this to Alan, he looked thoughtful and mused, "Hmmm...I could see that happening."

"I don't know what her problem is.  I mostly dream about bacon, and hot little bitches.  I would like to go to that IKEA place, though.  They'd have lots of stuff to widdle on.  I enjoy widdling on things."