Not-so-happy New Year

Dear Marty,

This is the hardest night of the year for me, although Christmas Eve comes close. The eve of a New Year is harder than your birthday or your deathday, as hard as those are.

You always called me on New Year’s Eve. Wherever you were – even when you were in the Navy – I knew I’d get a phone call when the new year arrived in your time zone, and again when it arrived in my time zone. It was a long-standing tradition, dating back to 1989-90, and was one thing I could absolutely count on with you.

Your last New Year’s Eve in this life was three years ago. I had moved that horribly uncomfortable recliner into your room so I could be near you. I held your hand as the ball fell in Times Square, heralding the arrival of 2021 and ending the single most awful year of my life. You weren’t consciously aware that a new year had arrived, but I wished you a happy new year anyway. And I stayed by your side that night, wishing you happy new year again when clocks changed in Oregon. I knew it was the last time for you and it was important to me that we were together, that I could spend those precious minutes with you, holding your hand, assuring you of my love, knowing that if our roles had been reversed you would have been there for me.

And so, my beloved son, an old year ends and a new year begins. Three years since you moved into your new life, three years since I held your hand, heard your voice, could reach out and touch you. The grief doesn’t lessen with time. I will always miss you and there will always be a Marty-sized hole in my world.

I love you, my boy. Always know that.


My Friend Ron

When Martin died, I inherited his friend Ron. It was several weeks before I knew I’d inherited Ron, but one day when he was visiting, he said to me, “Martin might have asked me to look in on you from time to time, and I might have said that I would.”

Ron and I had had our differences while Martin was sick. I found out he was bringing drugs to Martin and I was furious. I was so angry that I forbade him to come back. It wasn’t until Martin explained to me that he was only asking Ron to bring them because they helped him forget for a little while that he was dying, they gave him moments of blessed forgetfulness, of peace. He asked me to keep them for him and promised he would only ask if it got really bad for him, and that he’d only ask once. I agreed. He never asked; I think knowing that he could gave him strength.

Once I understood, I apologized to Ron and invited him back. Other than family and hospice nurses, Ron was the last person to spend time with Martin. The day after Christmas, just one week before Marty died, Ron was here, hanging out with his friend, watching t.v., laughing, remembering.

I’m telling you all of this about Ron because he went in the hospital a month ago to see if they could find out why he was always having so much pain, why his lungs kept filling with fluid. He texted me off and on as the days went by, and then I didn’t hear from him for a week. I made phone calls and found he was still in hospital – in ICU. I visited. I called. Many things happened over these past weeks. They discovered a subdural hematoma and performed a craniotomy. They found a UTI and treated it. They found fluid under his lungs in the pleural cavity. I saw him on Wednesday and he was alert but not oriented. And I finally spoke with his brother who lives out of state and is his medical proxy. Joe told me the worst news: on top of everything else, the diabetes, the lung issues, the back pain, the lower leg amputation, Ron has cancer of the liver and it’s metastasized to his bone marrow.

Ron called me a little while ago to tell me that he’d been given the news. He knows what it means – liver cancer is what killed Martin – and he apologized for “letting me down.” Through tears, he said he’s failed in his promise to Martin, that he won’t be around to keep an eye on me. The truth is, he’s been an excellent friend, he’s done more that I would ever have expected him to do. And through my tears I told him that.

I’m going to lose my friend Ron to the same disease that took my son, Ron’s friend Martin. I will miss him. I can only pray the hospital keeps him pain-free and that I can be of some comfort to him during these days.

Whatever you believe, I ask that you hold this man who is my friend in your prayers, good thoughts, healing light. I love my friend Ron. I will miss him.

Keeping a promise

Dear Martin,

On New Year’s Eve, 2020, as you were preparing to leave this life and begin your journey into the unknown, I promised that I would continue your battle to get your discharge from the Navy upgraded to Honorable, and to have you buried at Willamette National Cemetery with full military honors. I’m writing this to you to tell you that I have your corrected DD-214 showing that you served your country with honor, and I have scheduled your military funeral and interment for June 9, 2023, at 3:00 p.m.

It’s been a long, difficult, and frustrating journey, but I have been determined to keep my promise to you. I’ve had wonderful support from the ODVA, Senators Merkley and Wyden, and countless people who never knew you but who have wanted to see justice done.

I decided early in this process that, although your burial would be my primary goal, I wanted to take it further than that. I want to tell your story – our story – far and wide with the hope of getting justice for the thousands of men and women who were unfairly discharged and were denied the benefits they should have had. I want your funeral to be a media event. I want national news coverage. I want a law passed that will grant benefits to Veterans who have served honorably and whose only “sin” was being who they are. My goal is to eventually go before Congress to tell your story and to get a law passed so that no other Veteran, no family of a deceased Veteran, has to go through what I’ve been through.

Yesterday, I took the first step toward that goal. Steve Duin, a columnist for The Oregonian, came to the house and interviewed me for almost two hours. He was appalled at the way you were treated, and impressed that I had been able to accomplish what I set out to do. The column will appear in about two weeks, and I hope it will catch the attention of someone who can make it go nationwide.

I love you, son, and miss you. As happy as I am to be able to keep this promise I made, I wish with all my heart that you were here to celebrate our success. I know that it’s the last gift I can give you, and I’m so very thankful that it’s the one that was your heart’s desire.

Love always,

Facing loss – published to select friends on Facebook September 26, 2020

My dear son,

I wrote about you so often on Facebook, but since you didn’t indulge in social media, you never knew – unless I told you. Two years ago today I posted this for just friends and family, and it came up in my FB Memories today.

I can’t believe it was only two years ago. It seems like a lifetime. It seems like you’ve been gone for years and years. Sometimes you seem like a dream. But I know the pain I feel in my heart and the hole in my world is no dream. I know that I carried you and birthed you and raised you and love you. I  miss you so much. I miss you so damned much.


Facing loss
In July, 2001, I sat in the ER at Oregon Health & Science University here in Portland, with my oldest child. We’d just been told that Martin had cirrhosis, and he slept peacefully under sedation while I waited to find out just how bad it was. He’d been experiencing some abdominal pain and some gastric upset; but it was the pain that had brought us here this night.

Martin had never been a heavy drinker, and his medical and social history gave no indication of what had caused his liver to become cirrhotic, so it was termed “cryptogenic” – which meant there was no way to know. A medical shrug of the shoulders. As it turned out, it wasn’t bad; he was told to stay away from alcoholic drinks, given a couple of prescriptions, and sent home with instructions to have it monitored.

In the intervening years, I didn’t give it a lot of thought, and I really don’t think he did, either. He was young – in his 30s – single, handsome, and living life to the fullest. He lived here for a while, moved back to Miami for a while, lived in NYC for a while – my peripatetic child, grabbing life with both hands, wringing as many adventures and having as much fun as he possibly could. In 2010, he, along with is brothers, walked with me to “give me away” as I joined my life in marriage to Jim. In 2013, when Jim died, Martin and his then-partner were here in my home when I got the call that Jim had died. They drove me to the nursing home where he was, and they, along with my sister, stayed with me through the night till the funeral home came. He was staunchly by my side during those dark days following, a strong arm to lean on, a comfort to me in my grief.

Over the years, we’ve had our differences and our arguments. We love each other deeply, but we don’t do well living together, and when he moved permanently back to Oregon, he lived with me more than either of us was comfortable with. He kept my garage – and my life – in constant disarray with minor and major car repairs until I wanted to scream in frustration. He worked only sporadically, and last year he became unable to hold down a job because he was chronically exhausted and couldn’t seem to stay awake. He went back to the doctor, where a CT scan revealed that the cirrhosis had permeated his liver. Worse, he had developed a small cancer of the liver. In October, he underwent a targeted treatment called TACE, where the cells were surrounded by a “bubble” of chemo. The doctor felt certain that it would get the cancer, and a subsequent CT scan revealed that it had. We were cautioned, however, that cancer would recur, and that he’d need to have twice yearly scans. He applied for, and was granted, SSDI.

Then, this July, a routine scan, followed by an MRI, revealed that the cancer had returned – and that it was no longer small. Initially there was a plan to treat it with two recently approved therapies, both of which would have serious side effects, but it was his best – perhaps his only – chance to beat it. We then got the news that the cancer had spread outside his liver, so these therapies were no longer an option. We made an appointment with a radiology oncologist in the hope that radiation would shrink the cancer enough to allow for other therapies. After much poking and prodding, answering the same questions over and over again, we were told that radiation would only further damage his already fragile liver, and could only be offered to control pain. And that it had grown to a size that was outside the scope of national guidelines for a transplant. His prognosis was six months to two years.

Our one ray of hope was the cancer clinic at University of California-San Francisco’s cancer center, where they apparently take transplant patients on a case-by-case basis, notwithstanding the national guidelines. So we began to investigate that option, and were in the process of finding out how much of the cost of a second opinion, diagnostic tests, and potential transplantation his insurance would cover.

Then, last Friday evening, September 18, he called me from where he was staying, suffering intractable pain in his abdomen and right shoulder, and complaining of shortness of breath. The oxycodone that had been prescribed for him just ten days earlier wasn’t even touching it. I took him to the ER, he was admitted to the hospital, and for the first time we learned just how large the cancer is (about 2” x 3”), and that it had increased in size since the scan just two months earlier. The doctor said the shortness of breath was likely due to the cancer pressing on his diaphragm, creating pressure against his lungs.

He was discharged on Sunday, and I began five days of frantic calls to doctors and social workers, trying to expedite the second opinion and possible treatment at UCSF. Today we learned that there is no chemical treatment that can help, and that the cancer not only is growing rapidly, but appears to have invaded his portal vein, which is the most feared complication. It also effectively ends any hope of transplantation. All the finest, most renowned hospital and medical professionals in Oregon can offer at this point is radiation. It’s not offered as a curative treatment, but only an attempt to shrink the cancer enough to take the pressure off of his diaphragm and off of the many nerves, relieving, they hope, the shortness of breath and some of the pain.

And so, here we are. My oldest child, the child I wanted from the time I understood that girls could have babies, is dying, and the prognosis has shrunk. To what, we don’t know. We’re taking each day as it comes. He sees the radiologist next week to begin palliative radiation therapy. We’re closer than we’ve ever been, except, perhaps, when he was a newborn and completely dependent on me. I find that all of the arguments, all of the frustrations over the years, don’t matter. I’m thankful that he has lived a life filled with adventure and excitement, that he has memories that most of us only dream of.

He is angry and sad, he sleeps most of the time, he has his cat for comfort. His family surrounds him with love. My church family and many of my friends surround all of us with prayer. All I can be is that which I always wanted to be: his mom and his advocate.

He just turned 50 in May.

Published on FB January 2, 2022

Shared with Public

One year ago today, my first-born left his earthly life behind to begin anew in the mystery we call “death.” My faith assures me that all is well, even as I grieve, even as I know none of us has the answer to what lies in the Beyond.

Perhaps, as some believe, there is nothing. Or perhaps Martin has already been reborn as someone else, to work through previous incarnations. Perhaps even as I labored to bring him into this world, another mother somewhere was grieving his death. The answer is, We just don’t know.

And so I rely on my faith, on the knowledge that each of us is unique, and my belief that our uniqueness is purposeful, and that it transcends death. I believe that somewhere, in some way, Martin exists. And I also believe – maybe “hope” is a better word – that when my time comes to leave this Earth, I will find him waiting, ready to show me around the Afterlife. He was always a wonderful tour guide, after all.

In the meantime, I console myself with the knowledge that molecules of Martin surround me. He’s in the air that I breathe and the water I drink. He isn’t gone completely away. And, of course, he lives forever in my heart and mind.


As I write these words, I’ve just hung up the phone with the wife of a man I’ve known since he was a small child. He’ not related by blood, but by marriage, and he’s actively dying. He’s in his early 50s – a contemporary of Martin’s, and was his friend

This young man is actively dying of cancer – hours or days, but not weeks. So, even as I grieve my own child, another mom is looking down that dark road, a woman I know is trying to prepare herself for the unimaginable. A wife, a child, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends – all are facing the loss of someone dear to them.

Men, please take care of your health. Regular doctor visits are imperative. Women get into that routine early in life; men tend to put it off. Don’t do that. Have a thorough physical once a year. See your doctor about unexplained pains, or anything that seems unusual. Cancer is an insidious disease, but most can be treated if caught early enough. Not all of them, but most.

Don’t put your parents, your spouse, children, relatives, friends, through this grief. Love them enough to take care of yourself. You don’t realize how much they’ll suffer if the worst happens. You aren’t bullet-proof. None of us is.

I know.

Published on FB on 12/31/2021

Shared with Public
There is nearly always a bittersweet feeling about the end of a year. We recall the good and the bad, and if we’re a bit lucky, the good memories dominate.

I think we can all agree that none of us was really sorry a year ago to see the end of 2020. Between the pandemic, the last administration’s mishandling of it – the lies, the subterfuge, the daily death count – and the unnecessary confusion surrounding the election, it was a very bad year, indeed. It was hard to find or remember the times that gave us joy and a sense of well-being.

For my family, that was all overshadowed by the terminal illness of my oldest child, Martin. In the same year that we celebrated his 50th birthday with joy, we also observed the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with full knowledge of his impending death.
I consigned 2020 to the trash bin with a sense of relief.

On January 2, 2021, Martin left this earthly realm after three very hard days when he was in great pain, despite the heavy sedation being administered by hospice. His brothers and I kept vigil at his bedside, and were there when he opened his eyes and truly saw each of us just before he took his final breaths.

We were still deep in our grief when the trump-generated attack on the US Capitol took place. Such an unprecedented event turned our attention once again to the deep divisions within this nation. Even throughout those dark days, I missed Martin. I knew that he would have been next to me as we witnessed a history neither of us could have dreamed of.

I know in my heart that Martin would have struggled more than most with the ups and downs of pandemic restrictions/relief that were the hallmark of this year now ending. He was faithful to wear his mask during the early days, but as it dragged on, as the conventions changed almost daily, I’m not sure how compliant he would have been.

But there are also good things to recall about 2021.

Holding a place in my joyful memories is surprising Jason on his 50th birthday by showing up unannounced to everyone (except Lisa Cerezo – I know better than to pay a surprise visit to a daughter-in-law, especially when planning a week-long stay!). The look of surprise on Jason’s face when I walked in the door is forever imprinted on my mind’s eye! Even having to cut my visit short due to several of us contracting COVID-19 can’t erase that joy.

I was also thrilled to be able to resume some limited activities at my church, along with some dear friends (all of us vaccinated), and then – finally! – to be able to resume services in the church instead of on Zoom, in November. True friendships are a precious gift, and I’ve made several during the almost three years I’ve worshiped at St. Aidan’s.
Also in November I made yet another plane trip to Illinois to spend Thanksgiving with Jason, Lisa, and the boys. It was the first time in the 25 years of their marriage that I’d spent a holiday with them in their home. It was a delightful time – we made cookies, memories, and Thanksgiving dinner – and is a highlight of 2021 for me.

And now, as 2021 winds down, I have managed to get through the first anniversary of Martin’s last celebrations: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and, soon, New Year’s Eve. This will be a hard one. He always called me, wherever in the world he was, to wish me a Happy New Year – both in his time zone and in mine. It was a moment we shared for more than 30 years and I cherished it. Last year, he slept through it all as I sat at his bedside and held his hand. This year, I will be at Ben and Briana’s home, saying goodbye to the old year with them.

In 1992, my family endured the wrath of Hurricane Andrew, holding shut our front doors as the storm decimated the neighborhood. Yet, as I told several people, it wasn’t the worst thing that happened to me that year; it was also the year my mother died and that was far worse than a hurricane.

This year just ending certainly had more than its share of awfulness, but Martin’s death put all of it in perspective for me. I expect there are more dark days to come; humankind always seems to find ways to grab disruption and discontent from the jaws of joy. It’s our nature, I think.

And yet I am choosing to look for the joy. I am ever-mindful of my loss and at times I am almost overwhelmed by grief. But I also know that I am blessed. Blessed with good friends, with two amazing sons who grieve with me and look to my well-being. I’m blessed with two amazing daughters-in-law whom I cherish, and with five grandchildren who are the light of my life. I’m blessed with a sister and brother-in-law who, though far away, are still connected to my heartstrings; with a niece, nephew, extended family, and those who I call my “shirttail relatives” – not related by blood, but by choice. And I’m blessed by you, my Facebook friends. Some of you, I know, some I’ve briefly met, some I know only through your words on this medium. You bring joy to my day, even if I don’t always comment on it.

So, 2021, I bid you farewell. You delivered more than your share of pain and sorrow, but you were also a year that managed to bring joy to my world. For that, for so many things, I am thankful.

As 2021 wanes and we look forward to a new year, I say this to you, my friends: Look for the joy. There is always joy to be found, there is always hope. Sometimes you have to look really hard, but if you do, you’ll find it.

Happy New Year!
“Illegitimi non carborundum.” ?

On Friends and Memories

Dear Martin,

Ron came over tonight. He’s been a good friend to me, and will indulge my need to remember and to talk – to a point. Tonight was one of those nights that we reminisced and even shed a tear or two. Even Ron.
A few months back, he told me that you “might” have asked him to check on me from time to time, and that he “might” have agreed. He’s been good about doing that, and it warms my heart to know that you were thinking about me even in the midst of your anguish over leaving this life. I love you


I’m in the hard days now, son. Your last New Year’s Eve with me, you last New Year’s Day – dates you weren’t even conscious of. I do like to think that somehow you knew, though. Not consciously, but maybe in the very deep heart part of you, the part that loved to call me, to welcome a new year with me; the part that knew I needed to be with you one last time as an old year ended and a new one began. I like to believe that. I need to believe that.

Instead of spending these last nights of 2021 by your bedside, holding your hand, anticipating the loss that we both faced, I’ll spend them remembering. I can’t seem to stop crying. I’ll never stop missing you. Did you know I was there? Could you feel how much I’ve always loved you? Could you still feel that connection? I pray that you did and that in some way you were comforted by it.

Thank you for being my son, for being concerned about me even beyond this life. For asking Ron, your friend, to look in on me. I think you knew that simple act would warm my heart.

Wherever you are, wherever death has taken you, know that my heart is there, too, and that the day will come when I will be with you once again. That someday we can be mother and son in a realm that is beyond my understanding, but which my faith and my love for you tells me must exist.

My love for you lives throughout eternity.


Thanksgiving memories

Dearest Martin,

It’s a double whammy day for me today – it’s not only your half-birthday, it’s also Thanksgiving Eve. Just a year ago, I was at home with you, cooking, preparing, working in the kitchen to prepare for what we knew would be your last Thanksgiving with us.

This year I’m in Illinois with Jason, Lisa, and the boys, preparing, cooking, and working in the kitchen, getting ready to share the food and the day with them tomorrow.

But, oh, my Marty, my boy! I’m missing you so much! These days are getting harder and harder for me. I do try to keep a happy face, but when I’m by myself, I just can’t hold back the tears. It’s hard right now to even look at pictures of you, knowing that I can’t be with you, can’t hug you or rub your shoulders; can’t laugh or argue, can’t hear your voice.

It’s awfully hard, honey, to be approaching these days of celebration, joy, and family time together, knowing that there will forever be an empty chair at my table, knowing that despite the love of your brothers, your sisters-in-law, your nephews and niece – despite all that, my first-born is gone from my sight and from my hearing.

I’m thankful to have family, and I know they miss you, too, but the emptiness in my heart and in my life is the void left by your death, and one that remains empty, even in the midst of love, laughter, and thanksgiving.

I pray that you are at peace, wherever death has taken you. I pray that love is there and that my love for you is somehow present, that you have an awareness of how much you’re missed. Not in a sad way; I don’t want you to be sad. But in a way that always lets you know how much your mom loves you, and that, despite our struggles with each other, you were always loved.

So this Thanksgiving, even as I miss you and weep for the hole that will forever be in my life, know that I will give thanks always for having given birth to you, for have shared your years, your dreams, your struggles.

I miss you, my son. I love you always.


When lying is loving

October 20, 2021

Dear Martin,

I’ve remembered a few things that I want to write to you before I forget them! I think about you every day, and I miss you. Sometimes I will do something, or hear something, or a memory of you will just pop up in my mind. Last night, it was the hot tub.

Before bed, I decided to soak in it for a short while. My back was hurting, and I knew the warmth of the water and the force of the jets would give me some relief. As I sat there, I remembered how badly you wanted me to have it fixed during that last couple of months of your earthly time. The heater wasn’t working, and I had ordered a repair. It seemed that was all you could think about – getting it fixed. You wanted to sit in its warmth and relax, and imagined the relief it would bring. I spoke to the hospice nurse about it, and she wanted you to first be assessed by an occupational therapist, since your balance had gotten so bad. With high hopes, you readily agreed to the assessment, even though you hated having people come into the house and “handle” you. The potential of the hot tub overcame whatever resistance you normally had.

Within a few days, the OT arrived. She first wanted to put a gait belt on you so that she could help you if you became too unsteady on your feet. You vehemently refused, saying that your walking was fine. It was obvious that it wasn’t, but her job wasn’t to argue with you, so she deferred to your wish. She followed you closely as you made your way outside to the deck. The hot tub sat empty of water, and the therapist stood by as you made your way up the two steps and climbed in. It was clear even to my untrained eye that you were too unstable to get in and out of it safely. She seemed sad as she delivered the news that you didn’t want to hear, and you responded in anger that you could be safe – if I’d just get it repaired.

The repairman had called me just a couple of days before to tell me the part had arrived, and to schedule an appointment to install it. I called them back the day of your OT assessment to tell them to hold off, and that i’d call them when I was ready to schedule. Pulling myself together, I then told you that the part wasn’t currently available, it was on backorder, and they didn’t know when it would arrive. You angrily insisted that someone, somewhere, must have it, and that I should call around until I could find someone who did. It was a hard conversation. I hated lying to you, especially since I knew how badly you wanted to immerse your poor aching body in the comfort of warm water. (As I write this, it has occurred to me that perhaps it was a subconscious desire to be in a womb-like environment, safely, comfortably cradled in warmth and safety. A fanciful thought.)

For the remainder of your lucid days, you yearned for the hot tub. It was the longest lie I’d ever sustained, and I hated every minute of it. It was something that was in my power to give to you, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t keep you safe if I had it repaired, and your safety was paramount.

I’m so sorry, honey. You couldn’t understand my fear and you didn’t think I understood your yearning, so the lie was necessary. It’s still a painful memory, and one that returns each time I seek the healing power of that warm water. Just know that lying to you was an act of love, not malice.

Love always,



On May 27, 1970, I brought Martin home for the very first time. As his father drove, I carried my precious bundle in my arms, excited and happy – and a little nervous – to begin my career as his mom.

On January 21, 2021, I brought Martin home for the very last time. As his baby brother drove, I carried my precious boy’s ashes in my lap, sad and tearful, missing him, but still his mom, still loving him, knowing that there’s little left for me to do.


December 30-31, 2020

After Martin’s bad fall on December 30th, I was afraid for him to be by himself, afraid that he’d call for me in the night and I wouldn’t hear him. I slept directly across the hall in the family room so I could get to him quickly if he needed me. He was on full time oxygen at this point, but he was prone to take it off if it became bothersome. I slept poorly for about 4 hours. When I got up, he was groaning with every exhale, so I called hospice for direction. We increased his pain medication, and I called Ben to let him know that I needed him there. He arrived, followed soon after by Briana and the kids.

Martin on New Year’s Eve, drawn by his brother, Ben.

We also called Jason to let him know that Martin was not going to be with us much longer. Soon after, Jason emailed his flight itinerary to me, and I was relieved and thankful that he’d join us at Marty’s bedside on New Year’s Day. I prayed he wouldn’t be too late.

Briana and the children spent the day cleaning, doing laundry, and preparing meals for us. It was such a comfort to have all of them there, to know that I could stay by Martin’s side and not worry if something was needed – that loving, willing hands would take care of it all.

After dinner, Briana and the kids left to prepare for a New Year’s Eve observance with close friends, and a couple of hours later, I sent Ben on his way to be with his wife and children as we all said goodbye to 2020. I had a strong feeling that Martin wouldn’t leave me until the New Year. Ever since he had joined the Navy in 1989, he had called me from wherever he was in the world – both at midnight in his time zone and again at midnight in mine – to welcome the New Year. He would hold on, I was certain. I tuned his television to CNN and, as the ball dropped in Times Square, I welcomed the East Coast New Year with my boy, missing his ability to share it with me.

Wanting to be closer, but fearful that he’d fall on me if he tried to get up, I made a bed of sofa cushions and slept on the floor outside his room. I was close enough to respond immediately if he needed me, but at a safe enough distance that he wouldn’t fall on me if he tried to get out of bed.By that time, it was a new year on the West Coast as well, and I was thankful to know he had survived the most awful year I’ve ever known.

January 1, 2021

I knew upon waking that he wasn’t going to last much longer. Jason’s flight from Illinois was delayed due to weather, and all I could do was pray that he’d arrive in time. Ben and his family arrived later that morning, and we once again took up our vigil, interrupted only by text updates on Jason’s travel progress.

The hospice nurse arrived in the afternoon to assess him. When we discovered that he hadn’t voided his bladder since the previous day, she began to probe his abdomen. With a heartbreaking moan of pain, Martin rose to almost a sitting position and a few minutes later, we discovered that he had emptied his bladder. Although it was obvious it hurt him when the nurse probed, he seemed to relax more in his sleep. Briana, who had been cleaning, cooking, and making sure we all knew when food was ready, left those duties to join the nurse and me to help with personal care for him. He seemed much more comfortable, though his breathing was still labored despite the oxygen. Via telephone, hospice continued to coach me on administering his pain medication and clearing his mouth of secretions.

Finally, Jason’s flight arrived and Ben left to pick him up. He stopped at Ben’s to shower prior to coming to the house, in case he had any COVID contamination from his flight. I was so thankful to have all three of my boys together, especially knowing that it was for the last time.

Jason had brought his old Navy uniform, since it was our plan to bathe and dress Martin following his death and before the funeral home arrived. I appreciated Jason’s thoughtfulness; he knew what it would mean to his brother to once again, and for the final time, wear the uniform of the Navy that he had loved.

Not wanting to sleep on the floor again, but wanting to be close to him, I moved a small recliner into his room – possibly the most uncomfortable recliner I’ve ever tried to sleep in! Nevertheless, I managed to sleep for a couple of hours, holding his hand throughout the night.

January 2, 2021

I can’t really say I woke up because I hadn’t really slept, but the morning found Martin’s condition unchanged. I must have made coffee at some point, and I think I took a shower and changed my clothes. I know I’d been wearing the same clothes for a couple of days.

The house felt full of love with Jason, Ben, Briana, Addison, and Drew there to wait and watch with me. We had another visit from the hospice nurse to evaluate his condition, reaffirm that I was giving his meds properly, and to tell us what would likely happen as he approached death.

I’m sure we ate, drank, talked, and prayed, but so much is a blur to me. Late in the afternoon, I told Jason and Ben that we needed to make a list of who would need to be called – his dad and other family members and friends, and who would call each one. We decided to sit at his bedside as we made our lists, and we pulled our chairs to his bedside – Jason on one side of me and Ben on the other. As we talked and planned, Martin suddenly opened his eyes – the first time in two days – and looked at each of us in turn. It was obvious that he saw us, that he knew we were there, that he knew he was loved. He then closed his eyes and took four more breaths before going into eternity and becoming a beloved memory.

After calling hospice, I called my priest who said she would come right away. We made our other calls, and by the time Mother Esme arrived to anoint him and administer last rites, we had bathed and dressed Martin. We took turns sitting with him until the funeral home arrived and we could begin to wrap our minds around the hole that he left in our lives.


This has been painful to write, but necessary for me as I process a month – and the rest of my life – without my oldest child. I’m grateful to all of you who have traveled this journey through my writing, and appreciate your expressions of love and kindness.

When a loved one dies, we often make the mistake of whitewashing their lives and elevating them to some kind of sainthood. Martin was no saint; there’s not a person in this family who would ever attempt to paint him as one, nor would he want to be remembered that way. He was a human being. He made mistakes. He fought and argued with me, his dad, his brothers – but we all love him and we know he loved us. We remember him as he was. The most important thing is that he be remembered. He leaves behind no children, so it’s up to us who knew him in life to carry his memory forward, to tell people that Martin Jacinto Cerezo lived, that once he touched our lives and our hearts.