Category Archives: Family and friends

Coming Out of the Dark

Note: I wrote this on February 27, 2014.

Coming Out of the Dark

Today is the one-year anniversary of our nightmare and our miracle.

On February 27, 2013, Aaron prepared for surgery for his third consecutive retinal detachment in his only working eye. He had already spent the majority of the past four months blind, or nearly so, and forced to sit, sleep, eat, and walk with his head down, face parallel to the floor, while a gas bubble held his healing retina in place. Except that it wasn’t working. Fluid was entering his eye again and would soon cause a fresh tear in his fragile retina. It was a fresh tear in our hearts.

For months he had endured—darkness, stiffness, pain, isolation, helplessness, dependence—propelled only by the hope that this obedience would make the difference, would save his right eye unlike the surgeries on his left eye when he was a teenager and did not follow these rules. Each day he sat alone, all day, save visits from friends to give him shots or help with meals. He lived on phone calls and text messages read by Siri and coffee drunk through a straw because he could not so much as tip back a mug and casseroles from church folks and the asiago cheese bagels my mother kept bringing to fill her own need to do something, anything.

As he sat, I ran, in frantic circles, overwhelmed by keeping up with work and after-school arrangements and care calendars and appointments and the neverending dishes he used to do so religiously and well-meaning questions with no answers to give but wait-and-sees and hopefullys and those damn, damn unknowns.

All of November. All of December. Most of January. Now February . . . and this last wound seemed worst than the first, for the doctor gave up hope that another gas bubble would work and planned for this third surgery to use silicone oil to fill the eye. It would not require the facedown positioning but also would not go away—it would be left in indefinitely, leaving Aaron able to see only what he could see through the oil, which we doubted with his already damaged eye would be much of anything.

It felt like a theft. Aaron’s vision had been improving, but because of the encroaching fluid, on Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. the doctor was going to take it away. He was going to make my husband functionally blind, to save some of his sight. Continue reading Coming Out of the Dark

Living Our Papa’s Epilogue

These are the words I shared at the funeral of my grandfather, who left us on December 15, 2013, after ninety-two years writing his story on this earth. If ever we get a chance, let me tell you about my grandfather…

Once upon a time there was a man we called Papa, and he was a storyteller.

When we were little and we would go over to his house, we would climb all over him in his chair that he always sat in and demand a story. Sometimes he would read one to us, but usually he would make one up. Our favorites were his creative tales about two fleas named Itchy and Scratchy who lived on a dog and had all kinds of adventures, like going to the circus. And I think he would make up stories that seemed suspiciously familiar, like something about a little girl and a little boy, brothers and sisters, who lived on a farm, or visited their grandparents, or went camping, or whatever fit at the time. He would also sing us songs, like “Home on the Range.”

Our storyteller Papa would also tell us many family favorite stories, like things my mom and Nancy did when they were little girls. A classic was the story of how they put fake plastic dog vomit on the floor, and when he came home he got so mad at that dog and went and got a mop and bucket of water and tried to clean it up before he realized the kids were playing a joke on him!

Of course Papa had many stories from his PT boat days in World War II. He’d tell us about life in the small quarters of the ship, their daring escapes, singing songs at midnight on Christmas Eve on the ship, and our favorite, the one about the guy who was hanging off the side of the boat when it suddenly took off full speed, and no one knew he was hanging on back there for dear life.

Maybe the only thing he liked talking about more than his PT boat days and buddies was his four grandchildren. I can only imagine the ears he would bend when we first came along and passed through childhood milestones and did all those funny things kids do. I’m not sure who actually found it for them, but we were all so tickled one year when when were little and we found Grandma and Papa the perfect gift to put on the front of their travel trailer that they would spend summers camping in—a front license plate that said, “Let me tell you about my grandchildren!” We just knew Papa was already doing that wherever he went, probably whether he was asked or not.

And of course his favorite story of all time—and ours too—is the incredible love story Laura calls The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room. He told it to her so many times over the last couple years that she could retell it for you almost word for word, and maybe she will. Of course it is the story of how he met our grandma, Hazel. And it ended with how she stayed so beautiful even when a lot of the other women he knew turned into, quote, “some real bow-wows.”

It’s that love story that brought us here today, because that love has been passed on through the family to Don and Hazel’s children, our moms, who passed it on to us, and who made sure we’re all here today to remember that love and honor it and take up the legacy of this incredible man.

Every great story leaves you thinking about what happens next, and sometimes you get what’s called an epilogue to give you a peek into how it all turned out after the main story comes to a close. Our Papa’s story has an epilogue, and it says: Don Bujold loved his wife Hazel for sixty-seven years, in sickness and in health. Together they had two daughters, one son, four grandchildren, and so far three great-grandchildren.

We are all the rest of the story. We are living the epilogue. And I hope and pray that we live it well.

Thank you for being part of the story, and part of this day.

Fifteen

I’m lucky I’m in love with my best friend

Lucky to have been where we have been

Lucky to be coming home again

Lucky we’re in love in every way

Lucky to have stayed where we have stayed

Lucky to be coming home someday

June 21, 1997

Lucky Blessed together – fifteen years!

Lyrics: Jason Mraz, “Lucky”

On This Day in History

On November 17 some number of years ago, Wetzel history was made, or you might say began.

Leading up to this date I was excited that a friend was coming to town to visit my roommate and I. We were making plans, but Aaron was getting nervous. “You’re coming to the concert, aren’t you?” He was in a band and had a big show that night, playing a couple hours away with a famous real more well-known band. “You have to come to the show!”

I started getting suspicious. I told my roommate FJ I thought Aaron might be plotting something. “GWEN!”–she was the only one who could call me this–“Holy CRAP, Gwen!”

The next day something happened with Aaron’s car. He needed new tires, I think, and it cost a bundle. The only bundle he had, I was sure. “Nothing’s gonna happen,” I told my roomie. “His car keeps having problems–there’s no way he has a ring.”

The 17th arrived and we headed north for the show, in his newly re-tired blue Dodge Charger held together by Jesus bumper stickers. In a blizzard. Probably a foot of snow in Traverse City by the time we got there. Our friends from the other band arrived really late because it was even worse when they left after us.

Then Aaron locked his keys in the car. And his backpack. He seemed really concerned that he get his backpack out before their set. Fortunately, I am no Sherlock Holmes…

Finally his band went on. They were hyped. The crowd, such as it was, was into it. I was standing toward the front on the side, where the band guys’ girls hang to look cool. After a few songs Aaron had something to say–even back in the day he was the preachaman. Something about . . . priorities, maybe? I can’t remember, until this part:

“I have to say something to my girlfriend, Wendy. Where is she? Can you come up here? I have to apologize to her because I told her I was saving to buy her a ring, and then I went and bought this [Steve Taylor] CD. So I want to give it back to her. Wendy, this is for you.”

“Open it!” someone said. So I did.

No CD.

Something gold.

What’s happening?

“Wendy, will you marry me?” he said from one knee.

Someone stuck the microphone in my face. “Yes, of course!”

When the Famous Real Band guys arrived, he introduced them to his fiancee.

Then we had to spend the night up there (properly chaperoned, of course!) because of the snow before going home to mortify horrify enrage convince surprise my parents.

The rest is (our) history!

I’ll have to think of a prize–an empty CD case, maybe?–for these trivia questions*:

1. How long ago was this?

2. How old was I?

3. Super bonus extra credit: What semi-famous band was it?

*Spouses of me are not eligible to win.

Words from (and for) a PT Veteran

My grandfather served on a PT boat during WWII. A few years ago my mother asked my grandfather to write up some of his stories, and last year she had copies of A PT Sailor’s Story spiral bound for all of us. A few of his concluding words:

Our Squadron 7 was composed of some pretty good men. Their record was 132 sinkings, 3 probable, 111 damaged; fuel and ammo dumps destroyed. Eleven men were killed; 24 were wounded; 1 boat was lost to enemy gunfire. . . . Many are gone now, but there have not been many days since our war time experience that I have not thought of those times.

Generally I would rather not think too much about war and the military, because they are uncomfortable to me. But we can’t forget. My grandfather has not forgotten. And he is proud–I have a fresh memory of him just a few weeks ago telling Aaron about his tattered flag displayed in their home. And we are proud of him. Because of him and others, we have an amazing America for his great-grandkids to grow up in.

Thank you for your service, Papa. (I know you’re reading this, which is pretty awesome!)

Thank you to all who have served, and to their families.