August 14, 2007 By
The past five days are the hardest days that we Sluiters go through during the year. We try to be positive and remember just the good, as was requested of us, but it is still hard. There is no other way to describe it.
Two years ago today, my husband lost two things: his appendix and his dad. Looking back, I believe God took these two things at the same time for a few reasons – a few of those reasons He lets us in on, others not so much.
Steve was diagnosed with cancer in January, just 6 months before Cortney and I were going to get married, and only about a year after I had really met Steve. I have never witnessed anyone go through something so terrible with such gusto. Everything I knew about Steve before showed me the man knew how to LIVE. He loved life, he loved his family, and he loved God. And cancer illuminated that much, much more. He never let you leave his sight without saying, “hey, I LOVE you!” He made me so comfortable in that family it was just too hard for me to believe that he would not always be there. After our wedding in June, things continually got worse, and by his 49th birthday in August, we knew our days were limited.
On Saturday, August 13, 2005, Cortney began having horrible stomach pain. It was so bad that we had to leave our friends’, Erin and Tad’s wedding quite early. I was a bridesmaid, so I felt badly leaving so early, but we had been getting a few phone calls throughout the day with less than stellar updates about Steve (who by this time had had Hospice come in to his home). Cortney felt like he would puke at anytime, so it was time to go.
Sunday morning Cortney was supposed to participate in a fantasy football draft, but just couldn’t get out of bed, so I went in his place. In the meantime, Cortney’s brother and sister kept calling him saying, “you have GOT to come over; there just isn’t much time left.” Cort finally called me away from the draft and said, “it’s time to say good-bye to Pops, Kate. We gotta go.” So I drove him and his puke bucket (which he hadn’t used yet despite the fact that the pain just kept getting worse) to his dad and step-mom’s house. When we arrived, the house and lawn were packed with family and friends. Cort’s uncle Scott cleared out the living room where Steve’s Hospice bed was and Cort sat beside his dad.
I don’t think I will ever forget that sight for as long as I live. I could describe absolutely everything about it: from MacKenzie sitting on the couch in the background to the blurs of people outside the slider door. From the smells of hospital mixing with house to the tremble in Cort’s hand as he sat next to his dad. All I could do was sit and stare. I had zero words. Cortney craddled his puke bucket in his lap and in a sort of hunched over position took his dad’s small hand and stroked it with his thumb. He just sat there for what seemed like forever quietly holding his dad’s hand. Then he finally patted it and said, “it’s Ok dad. Go home.” Then he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, “take me to the hospital.” So he got up, I leaned in to my father-in-law and whispered, “I’ll take care of him. I promise.” Then we jetted out the door and out to the car. We weren’t even out of the subdivision when Cort’s stepmom, Lynne called to say, “He’s gone.”
Was it coincidence that even though Kenzie and Cody had been calling us all day, Steve waited until less than 10 minutes after we had been there to go? I just can’t believe that. He may have had tons of drugs in his body, he may have had massive tumors on his brain, and he may have been “out of it”, but I believe with all the certainty in my body, that he WAITED. He could not be Ok with going until he had heard from ALL of his children.
I rushed Cort to the hospital and by 10:00 pm, his appendix was out. When I went into the recovery room, Cortney looked over at me in his half in-half out drug haze and declared: “There she is! There’s my WIFE!” I chuckled and talked with the surgeon about when he would be able to walk and if he would be able to by Wednesday. “What’s Wednesday, what’s Wednesday?” Cortney kept asking me as if I had some exciting surprise for him. I swallowed hard and said, “honey, Wednesday is your dad’s funeral.” “Oh yeah,” he said with a forced seriousness that only drugs can do to you. “My dad died today.” My heart broke all over again. His funeral was August 18th, exactly 2 months after we were married in the same church.
So last Thursday, August 9th, we went to dinner with Lynne, Grandpa and Grandma Sluiter, MacKenzie and Dave, and Cody and Liz to celebrate the great life that was Steve Sluiter for his birthday. Tonight, Aunt Lisa and Uncle Rick took Kenz, me, Cort, Cody, and Liz out toward the place were his ashes were spread on Lake Michigan. We shared memories and thoughts. It was an incredibly special time.
I didn’t get to know Steve that well. I feel ripped off because of that, I won’t lie. But most of my saddness comes when I look at Kenzie and Cody and especially Cortney. In the past two years, even if they don’t know it, Kenzie and Cody and Liz have BECOME my siblings. Their happiness means as much to me as my actual brothers’ happiness. I would go the distance for them. And Cort knows I am not happy without his joy. That is why I feel so helpless to make them feel better in this area.
But that is not what Steve wanted us to think about. Steve wanted us to think about all the great times. All the joy he brought us. All the fun we had. All the beers we drank. All the laughs we shared. So that is what we did. There is no doubt that his not being here is shitty. But there is also no doubt that while he brought us joy here, he is recieving that joy a million times over where he is now.
We love you, Pops. Save us a beer.