“May you live in interesting times.”

October and November have been months that I will never forget.

I was in Spello, Italy for a 2-month stay during September and October, when my two girlfriends joined me in Spello for the first two weeks of October, and then a final week in Florence—girlfriends who were my roommates in Florence in 2003, my first time in Italy. For their visit, and even before on my own, we lit candles and said prayers for Karen, my sister-in-law living near Denver who was in the last weeks of her battle with ovarian cancer. In Assisi, I requested a mass in her name at the basilica of Saint Francis, on what turned out to be the Sunday before she passed away. When the news came while we were in Florence that she was gone, two of my closest friends were there with me to envelop me in their caring.

Bob and Karen Colwell, at my daughter's wedding in 2010

Bob and Karen Colwell, at my daughter’s wedding in 2010

We flew home to California 2 days later, spent the night in the San Francisco area, and then collected Barbara’s car and drove home together to Sacramento the next morning. I arrived to notes and messages from my husband and family, asking me to call right away when I arrived—and Mike came immediately to let me know that my Mom had passed away unexpectedly during the night. She passed peacefully in her sleep, at 89, deeply shaken by the loss of Karen—a “daughter” for more than 35 years. She had seemed to be doing well, in relatively stable health, and Mom’s loss was a surprise for us all.

I spent my first days at home arranging flights and a hotel room to get to Denver, and most of my family flew there immediately to be with Bob and his two kids, and to attend Karen’s life celebration on 2 November. Before I left, I wrote Mom’s obituary notice and had my brothers and sisters help me with edits, posted it to the local paper digitally along with a photo I had taken a year ago, and also made digital copies of about 100 photos—for Mom’s service on 4 November in Loomis, near Sacramento. We huddled together at Bob’s home in Centennial, preparing for both services and just being together—Bill from Virginia, me, Bob (Karen’s husband), Shirley, Rich and Cathy, from the Sacramento area—all six of us, and some of our kids were able to join us and their two Denver cousins, too.

The day after Karen’s service, we all migrated together to the airport, and to our flights to Sacramento for Mom’s service the next day, November 4. The church was full of friends, neighbors, relatives, and Mom’s next three generations—6 kids and their spouses, her 17 grandchildren (Seattle, LA, Denver, and many from the Sacramento area), and her 7 great-grandchildren (with two more only weeks from their expected arrivals). We created a beautiful video of her life story, told in old black and white photos, in many more recent photos in color, and ending with her enjoying the smiles and affection of her great-grandchildren.

Dorothy Jeanne Colwell--our Mom, Grandma, and Great-grandma

Dorothy Colwell–our Mom, Grandma, and Great-grandma

After the family members all spent some more time together, and then departed for home, I really had my first opportunity to “be home,” catch up on mail, see friends I’d missed, and even think about experiencing some jet lag—I hadn’t had time for any of that yet, with two deaths in the family 3 days apart, a flight home from Italy, and then two services 2 days apart, in 2 different states. All of our attention had gone toward honoring the lives of people we loved, and had just lost.

It was my plan to go back home, and finish up on the blogs that I still had pending from my trip. Not this time—I vowed that I was not going to move back home, lose my focus on the stories of Spello that I still had to tell, and finally give up. This time would be different—and then life moved in, again.

I’m writing this sitting in the surgical waiting room, in Seton Medical Center in Daly City, near San Francisco. Mike is in surgery for his back—the first of two, with a second scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. He is having his abdomen opened just now, to put in titanium implants to stabilize the vertebrae in his lower back, and then he comes out of surgery for an evaluation of the effects of this first surgery, possibly later this afternoon when he comes out of anesthesia. Tomorrow, the same spinal surgeon goes in through the back to install screws and rods, to permanently stabilize the lower spine. If necessary, they will also do more surgery to remove the bone spur that has been poking directly into the left sciatic nerve, causing Mike so much pain that he has been barely able to walk or stand.

I’ll be at Mike’s side through this, and then I’ll bring him home to Sacramento to recuperate, and I’ll be his caregiver. This surgery was almost an emergency, scheduled just a day after an immediate appointment last week with the surgeon–for today, Monday. Mike has had to hand off his workload in just a few days, and prepare for at least a month of recovery, but this is his best option to finally end the 18 months of back pain and (more especially) serious hip, leg and foot pain. We are very hopeful that these two surgeries will be the answer for him, and that he will be back in a year to hiking and skiing and biking—activities he loves that he has had to put aside for more than a year.

The blogs will continue—but I’ve had other more important priorities in October and November, and I may need December to help Mike recover and get back on his feet. When things settle down a bit for me, I promise that the blogs will begin again.


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