Pieces of the puzzle, part two

…continued from Pieces of the Puzzle

After yesterdays post it took three siblings and me to piece together the sequence of events from that time. I was off by a year. The years following our mother’s death was a blur of disappointment.

But it was 3am Christmas morning, 1971 that our father called my sister Janet downstairs to take him to the hospital. She was just 16 and the only one at home with a driver’s license. 

Before my father got sick
Dad, August 1971, one year after Mom’s death

Janet drove Dad to the nearest hospital in Shelby, Michigan where they examined him and wanted to send him home. My sister knew there was something gravely wrong and refused to leave the hospital.

They finally decided to send him to Muskegon, to a bigger hospital that could hopefully find out what was going on. Once there, the doctors discovered that his colon had ruptured…three days prior. How that man walked around for three days is beyond me. They said gangrene had set in and he would not survive.

My oldest sister Linda had to tell us all, on Christmas day, that our father was dying and would never come home again. I don’t remember opening gifts, but I do remember Linda had made us dinner. We sat around her table silently eating turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and all the traditional Christmas dishes we would normally share.

Linda had started the 24-hour fruit salad tradition in our family. She made it every year, and each holiday we all looked forward to it. As we were sitting at the table after dinner, trying to find something that would change the mood, her middle son abruptly up-chucked 24-hour fruit salad onto his plate.

It looked exactly the same as what was in the bowl.

For a moment we all just stared at the regurgitated 24-hour fruit salad on his plate. And then we started laughing. It broke the tension of the day and somehow made it okay to smile again. I still laugh when I think about that moment. We managed to get through the day, and the next one and the next one.

Our father didn’t die that Christmas. But he didn’t come home either. It would be several months into 1972 before he was out of his hospital bed. And after someone reported to social services that my 16-year-old sister was taking care of us, we were all uprooted from our home. They told us we had 24 hours to find proper supervision or we would all go into Foster Care.

Two of my brothers stayed with family friends and I went to stay with our sister Linda, her husband and three sons in their already overcrowded place. Janet found a friend to stay with and our youngest brother, who was only 8, went to a Foster home.

We were scattered about.

This is my family
My siblings and two of Linda’s boys

Dad didn’t come home until spring, and by that time, I didn’t want to go back home. I wanted to stay with my sister, and I resented my father for once again pulling me back to that farm. I could have stayed with my Aunt Ruth after Mom died, and I could have stayed with Linda then, but instead I went home to help him.

My father aged considerably during his hospital stay.
Our father aged considerably during his hospital stay.

He wasn’t the same man, and never was for me again. I had to help him with cleaning his colostomy bags and even cared for the wound. When I think of it, I can still smell the awfulness of it all.

Perhaps for me, this time of year brings back memories of sights, sounds and smells that no one would associate with Christmas.

I haven’t figured this all out, but I do know, to this day, I still wish I could have stayed with Linda. And by the spring of the following year I got sick….very sick. 

My sweet sister
My dear sister, Linda


Reader Comments

  1. Mary D.

    Oh, the woes of the female adolescent caregiver-I know them well, too. Sorry this fell on you. The bottom line is any adult responsibility that is placed on a child has a profound impact on our young lives. What we don’t realize at the time is that it will make you very strong, even if you feel like you can’t deal with another minute of responsibility. When my kids came along, I didn’t even remember how to really play like a child, having taken over family responsibilities at a preteen. So sad that your siblings were separated at a time you needed stability in your life. Our lifesaver was our elderly grandmother who kept the State workers at arms length. I have a question. Did you find that when your children were little, you had persistent worry and anxiety fearing that something would happen to you and no one would be there for them? Oh, the sleepless nights trying to work out that scenario! Perhaps you having older siblings with children who could have stepped in, saved you from that despair-I hope so!

    • Loretta Sayers
      Loretta Sayers

      Thank you Mary. I was so lucky to have Linda. We saved each other. She was going through post-partum depression at the time.

      But, yes, my whole life I have tried to be as healthy and strong as I could to spare my children from the pain of what I felt so long ago.

      It does stay with us. And being cast in an adult role as a young preteen was not what I would have chosen for myself. I even helped with the finances after my sister Janet left when she was 17.

  2. Anonymous

    Loretta, thanks for sharing this story as I’m sure it’s not easy! It does make sense why the holidays are so hard for you. My dad died the day before my 18th birthday and for years I️ couldn’t figure out why I️ was always so crabby. Amazing how our bodies respond to our emotions. Sending you a hug! Julie

    • Loretta Sayers
      Loretta Sayers

      Thank you Julie. So true about our emotions affecting our physical bodies. But also true that we forget it sometimes. It must have been so hard to lose your Dad just before your 18th Birthday 🙁

  3. littlemissw

    Oh my God. That is just phenomenal. Just so hard on all of you. And I can’t believe they split you all up. My son is 7 (8 next year) and I hate to think how devastated he would feel if he were separated from his brother.

  4. Trudy Callan

    It all makes total sense why Christmas is so difficult for you. It would be for anyone who has gone through everything you have gone through. As hard as this was, it is good you went back home and took care of your father because he really needed you. Your sisters Janet and Linda were so amazing how they care of you kids. I’m really impressed by that. Your parents raised strong, capable kids with character.

  5. Trudy Callan

    I am heart broken for you all that you had to be separated. That must have been so hard. And I’m especially thinking about your younger brother who had to go to foster care. Did he stay in foster care? How did he do in his adult life? Are you all still in touch?

    • Loretta Sayers
      Loretta Sayers

      I was so lucky I got to be with Linda. Our youngest brother, Brian was born on our Mother’s birthday. He was very close to her. Her death had an enormous impact on him. When he went into foster care, the people who took him in loved him so much they wanted to keep him. But of course, he came back home when Dad came home. He now lives in Oregon. We keep in touch always.

      Thank you, again Trudy. For reading, for your lovely thoughts, and for your concern. Means so much to me.

  6. Trudy Callan

    It makes sense that you quite often get sick around Christmas, when you think about it, because all of these stressful memories come flooding back to you; and that has an effect on your body.

  7. Patti

    Oh Loretta! I have to take care of my aging dad as an adult and I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for you as a child to be the caregiver!
    Has writing about this time been cathartic for you? I hope so.

  8. Rebecca

    Sometimes, it feels like we are so alike Loretta. My birthday is in May, in a few short weeks. My grandparents were migrant farm workers and my parents were raised for some time that way until they moved in the great depression to California. They struggled very hard in bitter poverty and my parents suffered too. I think even though I never experienced your journey, it feels like I know so much about it when I read it…How cool is that? 🙂

    • Loretta Sayers
      Loretta Sayers

      That is cool, Rebecca.
      It happens more times than you’d think that I have a story that is more like my friend’s parents instead of them. It is like I grew up in a different generation.
      Thank you, as always, for reading and your comments my friend!!! XXX

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