Long Distance Call

I will admit, since last October, life has been weird. I appreciate all of you sticking with me during my “sporadic writing phase.” It’s kind of like Picasso’s “blue period,” just not as… well, blue. Or paint-y. Definitely not as paint-y. Or hanging in a museum. Okay, fine. So, it’s not like Picasso’s blue period. Happy now? Sheesh.

Today would’ve been my Dad’s 78th birthday. Yeah. It’s still all so strange. We had his memorial last month. We’d been holding off for a number of reasons, not least of which, we simply did not want to officially say goodbye. There were military honors, and they gave my Mom a flag. One of his siblings spoke about his life. It was a lovely ceremony. I wanted to speak as well, but my severe anxiety, as it so often does, got the best of me. I think my Dad would’ve understood though. Neither of us were known for lengthy conversations, though we knew the love was there. That, we had in spades. As they are wont to say, we have closure, whatever the hell that means. All I know is, my heart still hurts.

And now, it’s summer. In our family, we all knew what that meant.

Hope the fishing’s good where you are, Dad.

A Good Man

A good man died yesterday. I may write more about this another time, when the wound isn’t still fresh, isn’t still deep. In fact, I’m sure I will. It’s important to acknowledge the passing of a good man. To raise one’s voice to the universe and give thanks for the time one had with him.

The best portion of a good man’s life; his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love. 

– William Wordsworth

dad in his element

Hospital Absurdities

I’ve been thinking a lot about illnesses lately.  About how some of them take your loved ones away, piece by piece, until there is nothing left of the person you once knew.

My grandmother’s mind was ravaged by Alzheimer’s. Such an insidious disease. She went from the fiercely strong woman I knew to someone who no longer even knew herself.  And as some of you know, my dad is currently struggling with cancer; he’s doing everything he can to kick its ass.  I’ve often wondered: is it better to lose your mind and keep your bodily health or retain your intellect yet have your body waste away? A twisted kind of lottery if you ask me, no matter which way you go. Terminal illness sucks, of that there is no doubt.

While I would drop everything to be at their beck and call, from day to day I try to keep a light heart and not dwell on the reality that is my dad’s illness … if I did, I’d go down that rabbit hole and never come back up. Instead I show my love through food and treats and stupid jokes and gossip and stupid jokes. Did I mention stupid jokes?

The tangled mess that is my mind wonders about so many things and since we’re discussing illness, naturally, I wonder about hospitals. So here is me … dealing with an ugly reality in a very not so mature way.

Why can you never find a doctor?  It’s a hospital, for goodness sake.  Doctors swarm around there like ants on your kitchen counter, so why is it you can never find one when you need him?  Pinning a doctor down for a visit to your hospital room is like planning a visit from your cable company, only a lot less fun.  “I’ll be there between 8am tomorrow morning and 11pm next Tuesday.”  Are there hidden golf course in the basement of the hospital?

Why are so many surfaces white?  Sure, I get the concept.  White equals cleanliness and sterility.  But what’s the point when the janitors are playing “Guess That Body Fluid” every time they make rounds?  Do you think janitors and housekeeping play fun games behind closed doors?  “I’ll see that pee puddle and raise you a vomit pile.”  “BINGO!”

Why do they wake you up to give you a sleeping pill?  Look, Mr. Baker is finally asleep.  Let’s run the floor polisher, set off all the alarms, and wake him for a sleeping pill.

Where do they hire the cooks?  Is there a testing process the cooks have to go through to be hired?  “Yes, Mrs. Smith, I see you worked in the High School cafeteria.  Serving cardboard pizza and soy hotdogs is great experience for this job.  However, I’m afraid you failed the test when you made the chicken taste like meat.”

How do they change the hallways to ensure you get lost every time you leave the floor?  This is some kind of engineering feat to rival anything NASA accomplishes.  From the moment you step out into the hallway, the room changes sides and moves to the opposite wing of the hospital.  The hallways reconfigure themselves, and the elevators disappear completely.  I swear, it’s like Hogwarts on steroids (if you don’t get that reference, go read the Harry Potter series … it’ll be good for you). The cafeteria moves multiple times to ensure no one will ever be able to find it, or its tasteless chicken.  I tried to leave a trail of breadcrumbs, but they disappeared when the janitor swept them up, excitedly marking his Bingo card.  Apparently, breadcrumbs are double or nothing.

Why have a call button at all?  Admit it, we all do this.  You hit the call button and immediately go out to find a nurse.  This is similar to the person hitting the up button on the elevator when it’s already been pushed.  Of course, once the call button is pushed, all nurses and technicians play hide and seek.  Well, all except for that poor nurse who’s always standing at the medication cart, paper cup in one hand, looking like a deer in the headlights.

Can we try happy words instead of procedure names?  “It’s bubbly yum yum time” sounds so much better than “It’s time for your chemo treatment.”

In all seriousness, I hate disease, and the way it robs us of all we hold dear.  The treatments sometimes seem worse than the illness they are treating, and it is hard to stay strong when you are watching someone begin to lose parts of themselves.  Some stories have good endings – thankfully, my Dad appears to be veering off into this direction – some, unfortunately, don’t.  The best you can do is reassure your loved ones that you have your seat belt on, and you’re coming along for the ride.

In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to try to find some small doses of humor along the way.

Oh, and I’ll bring the snacks.

 

Grow Old With Me

So, the little salt and pepper shakers have been a matched set for 58 years now. 58 years. 5.8.  I mean, I don’t even know what to say for my parents’ anniversary this year … it’s not often I’m at a loss for words, as you all surely know by now. The lack of poetic flourishes notwithstanding, I’m awestruck at the feat – I mean, 58 years! But also their obvious devotion, which has been on full display even more recently. Oh sure, sometimes they seem more like Tom and Jerry than Ozzie and Harriet, but the love binding them together for all these years remains a force to be reckoned with. And no doubt the best is yet to be.

Life is Messy

Keats said: “Life is divine Chaos. It’s messy, and it’s supposed to be that way.” And I get it. Yes. Life is messy. I’m not quite sure on the whole “divine” aspect, but in general, I’m on board with the whole chaos theory per Mr. Keats.

Here lately, chaos has defined my world … some bad, some good. It seems that along with being messy, Life has a sense of humor, and a twisted one at that. It sometimes gives you what you want, while also throwing obstacles — or downright tragedies, in your wake. Trials, tribulations, misfortune. Why can’t we just be allowed to enjoy the “good” without having the “bad” trail so closely behind?

After too many years of an unhappy — even, shall we say, hurtful, marriage, I began anew. It has taken adjustments, but it was necessary, and there is now a peace in my home that reigns supreme. Chalk that up to the “good” side. My kids are doing well on their respective paths to their future. Add a notch to the good column. I start a new job in a week. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m excited about this new route my own path is taking. Another mark to the good.

And then. Life, in all of its infinite wisdom said: “You know what? Things are just going a little to well for you and your family. I’m going to throw a kink into things. The mother of all kinks, in fact. Because, fuck you.”

Yeah. Life is messy all right.

My Dad, who this time last year was fine, now has Stage IV lung cancer. We know he was fine last year because for a few, non-cancer related reasons, he has scans done every year. That’s Life right there, flipping the middle finger. He’s a tough old cuss and if anyone can beat this thing, he can. But damn it, Life, get your shit together why don’t you?

 

Dear Mom – Things They Don’t Teach in School

Yesterday. Whew. What a long day, for all of us.

Dad had the biopsy on his lungs yesterday.  To say I was nervous and afraid is an understatement.

I decided to tag along to keep you company.  You’re my mom, but you’re so much more.  My friend, my confidant, my rock.  And dad?  He has always, always been there for me, no matter what. So of course, I was going to be there for him.

While thinking of you both last night, after all was said and done, I took a moment to reflect on the differences that separate us, and also those that connect us, as they do in any family.  Politics?  Please.  Social issues?  Ugh, no way. I have no doubt that you feel the same. I mean, I got my attitude from somewhere, right? Yet, through it all, I love you.  More than you will ever know.  You’ve done so much over the years for me; I want to be there for you like you are always there for me.

This is not to toot my horn, so to speak. Instead, it’s meant to offer up a heartfelt apology.

Yeah, I choked.  Sure, I’m great at the lighthearted stuff.  I can gossip about the mailman and tell terrible jokes with the best of them in an attempt – perhaps, a misguided attempt – to keep your mind off things.  I can distract you from the bigger picture, if only for a little while, with any number of sarcastic and witty (in my own eyes, at least) observances. I can get super-charged and angry on your behalf; whether it’s at people or situations, I’ll gladly take it on to save you the stress or heartache.  But the serious stuff?  I’m at a loss.

They never taught this stuff in school.

Mom and dad, I wanted to say the right things.  I wanted to do the right things, to offer comfort, hope, and a bit of light in the darkness.  I just am so ridiculously backwards and awkward in serious situations that I don’t know what to say or do. It’s almost funny. Except, it’s not.

I’m sorry I’m not good at small talk or knowing what to say in a painful, frighteningly serious situation.  And I was scared.  Just like you were.  I’m sorry I’m not better at comforting you; I truly wish I knew how.

I hope you both know that I love you more than anything in this world.  I will always be there for you, no matter how awkward or backward I may be at the reassurances and encouragements and comforting phrases.

My heart feels it, oh boy does my heart feel it; if only my mouth could say it.