17. Ode to Ruthanne: With love and gratitude

Hand stitched by my Aunt Ruthanne, October, 2014

I was stalling in my decision. Painful, heartbreaking, afraid- those were many of my feelings. Also, my age worried me. I wanted a family. I wanted love. A divorce at 34-years-old created deep feelings of hopelessness. It made me realize this ongoing dream I had for children and a family might not ever happen. I didn’t get married until I was 33. It had taken me that long. How could it ever happen again? I understood deeply just how hard it was to find someone. This divorce shattered my dreams, not just the dreams of what I thought I had, but any future dreams as well. 

Before finding that last bit of courage to serve the divorce papers, I had to do some soul searching and take control of a few things. I took matters into my own hands and visited a fertility clinic in Boise. I wanted to understand my options. After paying $350 for the appointment, I learned it would cost over $10,000 to freeze my eggs, followed by a continuous storage fee. It was all feeling like too much.

I didn’t want any regrets. No should’ve’s, could’ve’s or would’ve’s when it came to my fertility. I also didn’t want to stall my career any longer in search of love, something I had done before. That was the soul searching I was really doing. That’s why I was going to the fertility clinic. That’s what this all meant.  Before I divorced I wanted to know I was going to be okay living on my own, that I would possibly not get married again, that my career was going to be my focus, and that I wouldn’t rely on finding love again.  I had to own my life and take back control of my life and own the power within me. It was a definite process. 

To try to help ease my pain, my mom would reassuringly tell me I would get remarried quickly after I got divorced and not to worry. An ode to good moms everywhere: She would tell me I was a catch, and some amazing man would quickly find me. But her efforts only made me frustrated, because I didn’t want to get divorced hoping for some man to come along and rescue me. No way! That had never happened before, and I wasn’t ever going to count on that happening again. I wanted to go through with my divorce knowing I was on my own, and to be prepared to remain on my own- fully content I could fly solo without regrets.

Sometimes I needed to talk to Ruthanne for reassurance. She had not had any children of her own. She had wanted them. She, too, had lost precious time with a bad first marriage. I would ask her if she had regrets, and she’d share her journey: How much she had thought she wanted kids, or maybe just a daughter, at least one daughter, but the timing had never been there. She said now she was grateful. Had she had that daughter after finding Bill, that girl would only be in her 20’s now, and she would have never been able to accomplish what she had done. She didn’t think she’d have had the energy. She was content with her life as it was now, and said she had a daughter in me. She had Bill’s children, too. She realized life turned out perfectly for her, and wished she had understood that when she was younger. 

All of this helped. 

It was October 2014 and the divorce papers were stagnant and saved on my computer desktop. Ruthanne and Bill flew me out to Tucson. I couldn’t wait to get away and see her, to relax in her abode. She always, always had a box of Sees chocolate waiting for me. This time, when she picked me up at the airport, she laughed and said since she was running late I had to come with her to pick the chocolates up. We picked them out together. She was beautiful. She was always dressed so clean and crisp. It was always a welcoming sight to see her. The bond we shared was rare.  My Aunt Ruthanne is actually a cousin- my father’s first cousin. As I was growing up, she cared. She always put her family first, and she made sure to get to know me- her cousin’s daughter. She’d say I was that daughter she never had. Through the years she booked us cruises, and when she learned of my silly goal to hit all 50 states before my 30th birthday, we took off to Maine and Alaska. In my pain her home was my getaway. Her voice was my calmness. I always knew there was this woman who loved me dearly, and I loved her so much. We decided when I was about 19 that I would call her aunt. Cousin was too impersonal for what we shared. When I left on a Mormon mission at 22-years-old, she didn’t share my faith, but she wrote something to be read at the pulpit. When I got married, I learned she had been collecting my dream antique china for over a decade, keeping it a secret, and she gifted me the whole set on my wedding day.

I would stay with her often in Tucson. Sometimes just to write or to work on a business venture. We loved going thrifting. When I returned from my mission, awkward and pudgy, she flew me out and booked an entire day at the Miraval spa. She bought me a new wardrobe when I was in my mid-twenties and headed out to travel with an event company and the Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. In her I found solace, safety and unconditional love. It was a world separate from everyone and everything else. We knew our bond was special. She visited me when I lived in Pocatello, Idaho. She visited me in Los Angeles and New York.  She taught me about my family ancestors and where I came from. We both shared the name Ruth. She was the perfect person for me to learn from and lean on, because she was strong and independent, but she had also had so much heartache. She had had that first bad marriage, during her first career as an English teacher. Then she decided she wanted something more after meeting her husband Bill and she started an office furniture company. She was called to furnish the Pentagon after 9/11. She was my hero-  my strong, independent female hero.  I looked up to her in so many ways, and she took me under her wing. I don’t know why she decided to love me so fiercely, but her love changed my life.

ruthanne paper

On this trip we went to lunch. She told me I had her no matter what, that I was strong, that my career was important, that I was getting better at my craft, and that I could make it on my own. She gave me two blazers to wear on television. We talked the children talk again. Would I be a mother? How could I be okay if this wasn’t in the cards for me? She told me I could do whatever I wanted to do. She had to do it on her own, and I could do this thing called life on my own as well. I think in feeling my desperation, she became serious. “Lauren, after my divorce, my mom died suddenly. She was my best friend.  I was so lonely. I was so afraid of being lonely. Promise me, you will not marry someone just to marry someone. Do not marry the first person that comes around.  Go live your life. You will find someone. Maybe not until your 40s, maybe even 50’s, but do not marry anyone because you’re afraid of being lonely, or afraid of not being a mother. You will find him. I promise it will work out, and you’ll look back on your life without regret. Focus on you.”

This really hit home. It softened my heart. Maybe I could still have hope in the right man for me, someone who would be loving and supportive – a partner.  But I was done with the wrong men. I was done with jerks. Done with anyone who made me feel less than.  I was done settling. What she was telling me was to understand I could be on my own unless, or until, that perfect man came along. It gave me a piece of hope, but also strength in my independence.

I didn’t want to give up on love. I wanted to keep the hope that maybe there was someone for me, but if he didn’t come for 5 years, 10 years, or even 20, I was willing to do life alone.

I heard her loud and clear. I understood what she was saying, and I agreed. I promised her. I was starting to feel more prepared to go through with this divorce, ready for whatever life had in store. 

Ruthanne, Bill and I went to the family reunion and had a blast. I wished I could have stayed longer in Tucson and so did she. She told me she would come out and visit me soon in Boise, and she would help me move or get things in my storage- whatever I needed. She got upset that I still hadn’t hired an attorney. She looked me in the eyes and told me to promise to go through with my plans of divorce. She knew I was stalling. I told her I would. I promised her I would divorce a man from a loveless marriage. That night we tried on a vintage wedding veil she had purchased at a flea market. I told her it’d be perfect to wear the next time I married. I quickly corrected myself: “And by next time, I mean the next time in 10 years,” I smiled – ONLY when he’s absolutely perfect for me.  “No hurry,” I said. She smiled back. She showed me the blanket she was sewing for my niece, Etta. Then she gave me some cross stitches with inspirational quotes. She had been stitching them one-by-one at her cabin. This one hit home the most-

“Mother Teresa didn’t go around worrying about her thighs, she had shit to do.”

The lighthearted quote actually stems from a significant source-Mother Teresa’s biography. The author implies Mother Teresa wasn’t like other adolescent girls who worried about their clothes, boys or her thighs. Mother Teresa had bigger, grander things to think about, and to accomplish, than worrying about such small things. Mother Teresa is one of my heroes. She’s a woman who left a legacy unlike any other- without a man. Without children, without being a mother. Without worrying about what other people might think. She left a legacy by allowing her conviction, determination, love, and passion to lead her. This cross stitch was what I needed. 

As I was leaving for the airport, Ruthanne asked me to open my hands, and she handed me a pair of antique emerald earrings. (I’m wearing them as I write this and remember). She said they were hers, but now mine. 

She looked me in the eyes and said: “I don’t do goodbyes, you know that. They’re too hard. But I will see you soon. I love you.” She gave me a big hug and we parted. 

I arrived home and hung the cross stitch up in my cubicle at work. The reminder I needed. Less than one week later, I received an email from her:

October 13, 2014

I am enjoying my lazy, lazy morning. Wish you were here to enjoy it, too. Sheets spinning in the washing machine, I am reading the news, Bill is at work and I am missing you…a delightfully typical American home.  I need to stay away from all of the leftover chocolate… Although not in your room! 

I hope you know what a wonderful young woman you are. Good things are waiting for you…use your good strong legs and mind to find them. Some of us have to make our own way. You don’t have any parents to fall back on, and I know it’s never, ever the same, but you have us.

Our love, kisses, hugs, and anything else you need.

Three days later, on October 16, I was out with our photographer Doug for the day. We were hitting deadlines and feeling stressed. We had landed an incredible exclusive interview, but then we were rushed by producers to breaking news. So when I saw Bill calling my cell that afternoon, I ignored it. I assumed nothing of it, deciding to call him back later. I didn’t even listen to my voicemails. I was too busy with the evening deadlines. 

Back at the station, I was in the edit bay. I had written and voiced my story, and was now editing the final piece. A text popped up from Bill: “You need to call me.” Chills went down my body. I knew something was wrong. I knew it the moment I saw his text.

I walked out of the edit bay to a couch in the commons area and called him back. “Ruthanne was in an accident,” he said. “What happened?” I asked. He explained that she had gone out for her daily bike ride and he received a call a few hours later from someone asking if he was Ruthanne’s husband.  Passerby’s had found her, and no one saw what had happened. She was wearing a helmet during the accident. She was in the hospital, still unconscious. I asked him if she was going to be ok, and he broke down: “I don’t know.” I asked if I could come to her, come and see her. He said: “No, come when she’s better, and when she can talk. We’re doing brain scans in the morning. The doctor says that on a good note, she’s moving her fingers and seems to respond.”

I hung up and started crying. I found Doug and told him I’d just received some bad news. I asked to go home.  I couldn’t go on television at that moment. I asked the producers to take me out of their shows for the evening. Doug said he could finish editing my story. Everyone quickly told me to go home, not fully knowing what had happened, but they were always so compassionate, so quick to understand, so quick to help out and care.

I left the station and in my car I started bawling. I knew the accident wasn’t good. I knew it. I was clinging to what Bill had said though-  there were some positive signs. I heard him say I could come when she was able to talk. That night, after I got home and couldn’t sleep, I felt so alone and afraid. I wrote her an email: 

OCTOBER 16, 2014

My dear Aunt Ruthanne, 

Today I heard about your accident and that you’re in the hospital. I wish so much I was there, but I am going to write you every day until you’re awake and I get to talk to you again. 🙂

Your words meant so much to me three days ago. I have read them multiple times. I am going to make you proud. I know you’re here for me, and that means more than the world–more than you will ever know. You told me I was wonderful and that good things are waiting for me … to use my good strong legs and mind to find them. You said that some of us have to make our own way. … I will make my way, and greater than you ever imagined … and I’m going to do it for you! 🙂 

Today, I was going to text you this morning. I was going to tell you I had an interview of a lifetime, and I was so proud. So I wore the gold ring you had given me for good luck. I had my new maroon jacket that you gave me and I looked so professional. I thought of you throughout my day, and how I was going to tell you all about my interviews later. 

Instead, I talked to Bill and he told me about your accident and condition. I want to come to Tucson this weekend. I was looking for flights, but Bill wants me to wait. And so I will. 

I have hanging in my cubicle the words you lovingly stitched: “Mother Teresa didn’t go around worrying about her thighs … she had shit to do.” I hung it up yesterday.  And on my mantle sits your cross stitch: “I have sunshine on a cloudy day.”  

I felt sad about your accident, but I walked in my house and saw that cross stitch.

My aunt: You have a sharp mind, a strong spirit, a lot of love, determination, and a lot of life to live. I can’t wait to talk to you again … and I’ll keep sharing these emails while you recover. 

I am praying. I have a strong belief in prayers. I know God hears them. You are being watched over. You are loved. 

Love, 

Lauren 

PS THANK YOU for getting me to Tucson! How grateful I am to have spent those days with you. xoxo see you soon!

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I wrote her the next day too, while I waited anxiously: 

October 17, 2014

Late night tonight at work for me.  I’m a mess often, and you keep me calm like others can’t.  I wish I could hear your voice. I will soon! 🙂

I talked to Jeremy a couple times today and he said things were more stable and your brain is doing better–it’s stopped bleeding. That was so good to hear. 

Today someone asked me about you, and I said: “She gave me this ring.” Then I explained that you and [Bill] are the ones who gave me the Louis Vuitton I love. Then I said: “and she gave me this jacket I’m wearing”.  “Oh, and she made this cross stitch”.  So essentially, I was pointing at everything on me, and by me, and it was ALL Ruthanne. 🙂 

I hope I get to see you soon. I have been talking to Linda today too, and also Tammi Barrick. It’s been nice talking with your cousin Linda. I have always liked her a lot.

My family is all praying for you and we love you. I love you so much my aunt Ruthanne.

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October 18, 2014

Hi Ruthanne,

I’m sad tonight and feeling selfish. I just want you to be okay. I kept myself busy today, going to a pumpkin patch.  Then I boiled some cloves and cinnamon together with some apples to make it smell delicious. My mom taught me that trick. 

I want you to wake up but I know you’re being comforted and healed in angels’ arms, and that right now you probably need to be sleeping in order to heal. 

I miss you. The [recent reunion] was so wonderful. You were so good to me. You and Bill always are. Your love has been tremendous in my life, and I am praying my heart out.

I’m also working my butt off, because I know that’s what you want me to do! I’m working so you’ll be proud of me. I’m going to make something of myself in this big world, and I’m doing it for you.

Sorta rambling like I always do. It’s what we do when we’re on the phone together so I’m sure it will be nothing new to you when you wake up and read all my rambling emails. 🙂 

Falling asleep thinking of you. Praying for you and Bill. My heart is in Tucson with you.

Xoxo

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October 19, 2014

Today I went to church, even though I didn’t think I would, or was in the mood. I was drawn to go. (Although, let’s be honest, I bailed early). 🙂   BUT while I was there, and I took the sacrament, I read my scriptures, and I prayed for your comfort and for peace. I felt peace too.

Then I got some wedding gifts unpacked! The beautiful China from you and Bill is still safely tucked in its box, awaiting a worthy China cabinet I’ll have one day- -perhaps in a new apartment in a bigger city where I one day get paid my worth! 🙂

You are so smart and funny and charismatic and real. To be your best friend, and to be your family is an honor.  Someone told me today that you are lucky to have me in your life, and it made me feel mad. I replied: “No, I am lucky to have her.”  And that’s the truth. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have an Aunt Ruthanne. You’re more than my aunt, we know that, but Aunt Ruthanne you are.

I’ll see you very soon.

Xoxo 

Lauren Ruth 

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Monday morning,  October 20th, I answered the most dreaded call: Ruthanne’s step-son Jeremy told me if I wanted to come say goodbye, the time was now. I booked my ticket within 5 minutes, and called my co-worker- our sports anchor- Paul Gerke, who quickly came to take me to the airport. My cousin Tammi met me at the airport and brought me to the hospital. 

That evening, from Ruthanne’s home, in the bedroom she called mine, I wrote my last email to her.

October 20, 2014

Love you so much Ruthanne. I’m grateful to be with you today and tomorrow. I can’t wait to be wrapped in your arms again. 

Goodnight until then, Xo

After meeting with the social workers at the hospital the next day, we took her off life support. I said my goodbyes and wept while holding her hand. She passed early the next morning on October 22nd, 2014 and I flew home to Boise that evening.

This time, the time between her accident, her death, and the few days following were some of my loneliest. The pain just kept getting deeper, unending. How could that be possible? I realized how alone I was. Here I was a married woman, mourning the loss of my best friend and family member alone- completely alone. I was crying myself to sleep alone. I had reached out to my husband and told him the news when it had happened. He had no interest in being there with me. I was completely alone. My aunt’s words rang true- I was on my own. I had made a promise to Ruthanne about the divorce and I fully intended to keep that promise. I was tired of being married and yet being so alone all the time. I was tired of crying. I was tired of trying. I was tired of so much pain.  The end of my marriage was near. 

To read my blog, written shortly after Ruthanne’s death, click here

I hope you know what a wonderful young women you are.Good things are waiting for you ... use your good strong legs and mind to find them. ... some of us have to make our own way. (2)

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