DYI

Me: isn’t it very obvious right now (gesturing to Tom’s state of hair- both facial and head) that I married my father?

Mom: …Yes…but they had very different personalities.

Me: I know. When Tom gets drunk he doesn’t sing in French.

Mom: I was thinking more about Tom’s ability with home improvement.

Me: That’s true. Dad focused very much on the ‘Yourself’ aspect of DYI. Regardless of how many corners he cut ‘Doing It’.

Sorry Dad, but it’s true. You rocked the full beard better, if that’s worth anything.

The Song

Dear Dad,

We had a real gloomy, rainy day and I wanted some music to get me through but didn’t want to risk my electronics getting wet. So I sang.

I still can’t get through “This Little Light of Mine” without choking up. And maybe I never will. That’s OK with me. I will always keep singing it.

Love,
Your daughter

Stomping to the Fray

I’ve been in Gainesville the whole week.  It’s not conducive to writing because there is more for me to do than mope about the condo.

Although I can mope about a geriatric apartment pretty well too.

In all seriousness, I am almost over my victim why-me shit.  I still really miss hiking.  My goal had been to write enough non-hiking posts that nothing on my front page was hiking related.  At this point, I think I’m better off re-designing my layout than coming up with non-hiking posts.

This was a really tough fucking week.  I am trying really hard not to blame other people because it does no good.  That has meant I blamed myself a lot.  Which does no good either.  But here I am.

It’s entirely possible I should blame my father a little bit and I mentioned to Tom I might stomp on him when we finally visit the cabin this year.

“That’s really not right.”

“I don’t think he’ll mind.”

The reason for the stomping is some legal mumbo-jumbo that got very much jumbo-ed between the time my grandfather died and my father died.  At that point (my father’s death) I stepped into the legal fray with the understanding nothing really had to be done.  Unfortunately, the understanding was wrong and much of what the lawyer assumed made an ass of him and me.

Whatever.  It has meant on top of throwing 70 years of my grandmother’s life into the garbage so I can move her into a 12’x’13’ box, I have a lot of financial items on my to-do list.

It’s scary.  Even though I have been prepared for my grandmother’s death emotionally for several years (she’s been begging to kick the bucket since Grandpa left), I had little understanding of how her passing might ripple through the courts and IRS and banks, etc.

Here I should stomp on my father’s grave (do you call it a grave when it’s an unmarked spot next to a rotting sailboat with ashes buried in a plastic rectangle?) because not only did I inherit this mess, I inherited the personality type that does not want to have a fucking thing to do with this mess.  Family money gives me the hives.  Can’t someone just die in peace and I drink a fifth of Jack and we call it good?

Nope.  I have to put my big girl panties on and deal with this.  So I have.  I have visited FIVE – that is 1, 2, 3, 4, FUCKING FIVE banks in the past month.  I have produced important documents and death certificates and played on my iPhone (very big girl behavior) as they copied and typed and faxed to their heart’s content.

I have made great progress.  But I am no where near where the family needs things to be.

So I will do a load of laundry, find some fresh undies, and once more enter the fray.

The Birthday

Dear Dad,

We buried your ashes on your 66th birthday.

That happened by coincidence.  All 5 of us were only there for 18 hours together.  But I guess it was fitting.

Originally Mom wanted to bury you in the blackberry place by the old logging railroad.  But that morning she asked if maybe we should just bury you at the cabin, since Mark and I were going to keep it in the family.  While I know you really loved the farm more than the cabin, it seemed fitting as well.

Your ashes and both wedding rings are buried near your old sailboat.  There is no marker, no rock or symbol or tree planted over top of you.  I pointed out this meant we’d end up tramping over you with the canoe or firewood or what-have-you.  Everyone agreed that was fine.  And fitting.  You will be a silent helper in the ground with these tasks.

You made me smile while we were there.  Tom told Mom a story about how I fall asleep reading and then wake up very indigent exclaiming, “I’M STILL READING” if he tries to put away my book or turn out the light.  Mom laughed very hard and said, “Just like her father!”

I hope I am like you in many ways.   I would love to know that I have your brains, your courage, and your heart.  But hearing that I have your fanatical and annoying bedtime reading habit was wonderful.  And fitting.

Love,

Your Daughter

The Cancer

Dear Dad,

Yesterday was Father’s Day.  One of the 3-4 times during the year when you would have actually gotten on the phone with me.  Like many other things, I dreaded it for weeks and when it came it wasn’t so bad.

Actually, I was just too wiped out from caring for your mother to notice.  Tom and I went to Sunken Gardens because we have a family membership and we needed some reason to get out of the house before it was 4pm and we were still glued to the sofa.  There’s a restaurant that shares the parking lot and they were advertising special Father’s Day hours and I was kind of like, “Oh right.”  And felt a little more sad and frazzled.  Especially because I thought about bringing it up with Tom again so he would call his dad.  I didn’t.  I have a feeling Tommy is going to get short-changed on several Dad-centric things for a while because I just can’t care that much.

Your mother had a hysterectomey.  The day afterwards was confusing and frustrating and horrible because she really did not look good in the morning and felt like her left ankle was sprained from being in the stirrups so I was scared to push her to walk much even though that meant delaying when she could be discharged.  The doctors came in the morning before I got there, and came again in the evening after I left.  She kept remembering treatments she thought someone had told her she might get and would get agitated about not getting them in the small window of time between naps when she wasn’t exhausted.

I realize that nothing much would have changed if you were still alive.  She got on your last nerve and days like that make me understand why.  You would have been in Chicago and I would have been in Florida and the whole thing would have played out almost exactly the same.

The surgeon could tell just be sight that the cancer has spread to her lymph nodes.  She took out some obvious and easy-to-retreive nodes.  Typical treatment is chemotherapy.

Mom seems really gung ho on chemo and treatment and beating this.  As is every single cancer support site I can find on the web.  And even though I know you wanted to fight death to your last gasping breath, I think you would side with me on this one.  That she is 90 and the doctor says that even with metastasized cancer and no treatment it’s still not a done deal that cancer will be her cause of death.  Because she’s 90 and when you’re 90 sometimes you just die because your 90.

I want this to be Grandma’s decision.  But I want her to know it’s OK to say no to treatment.  That maybe she will have a better quality of life in the time she has left not going through chemo again.  I don’t feel like anyone in the medical community is going to offer that opinion – it’s an opinion equated with defeat and death and no extra work/billing for them.

I don’t believe no treatment has to be equated with defeat and death but I am having a hard time figuring out how to tell her in a way that doesn’t make it sound like I want her to die.  Because every time I think of saying no to treatment I think of removing your breathing tube.

I think of how it’s probably not what you would have wanted.

But you were dying.  Not like grandma is dying because she is old and has some bad cells pinging around in her body.  You were dying as in you were going to pass away that day regardless of what we did.  And deciding to stop your hospital care seemed like the kindest thing to do.  For you, for Mom, for us.

I wish I could have told you, before you made your decision to be intubated, that I wanted you to accept hospice.  But I had just gotten on a plane and was reeling from all the information and didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want it to sound like I had given up on you.

And now it feels like I did anyway.

So I cannot let your mother feel like I have given up on her.  But I also want to make her feel comfortable with the idea of – not giving up exactly, but letting go.  Whatever will be, will be. 

Love,

Your Daughter

The Farm

***Warning/Note/Editor’s Remark/What-have-you.  My father passed away suddenly in October 2010.  If you find a letter to a deceased relative depressing/in poor taste/boring, read no further.***

Dear Dad,

It was not depressing to be at the farm.  I didn’t miss you a whole bunch, because so much of you is still there.  A pair of your non-prescription reading glasses are sitting in one of the cold frames.  They are cracked and dirty of course, but I bet if you found them you’d chortle a bit like you found gold and wear them until you misplaced them again.

A bit more esoteric but still true, you’re there in all those flowers.  All that damn lavender I now have carpel tunnel from weeding.  Even in the annuals I helped Mom plant, because I know you helped choose which kinds of flowers to plant and she probably wouldn’t have had the slightly idea how to seed, grow, and transplant them without you.

Seriously, you would have been proud of her.  I know you were the mastermind behind the actual farming aspect of the farm but she didn’t have one hesitation in what she wanted done and how to do it.

So it just felt like you had stepped out for a really long time to buy groceries.  Which was sad, but not depressing.  If that makes sense.

I never told you this, or anyone for that matter because it’s just one of those random things you think to yourself once or twice a year, but I have always missed the lilac tree blooming in the back yard.  I don’t think I’ve been home for a spring or fall until this year.  But I remember having my top window cracked on rainy April nights while the lilac was in bloom and just feeling like everything was right with the world.  I am sure you pointed out the lilac trees you planted at the farm, but I’d never been there to see them in bloom.

Maybe it’s morbid, but I think it’s kind of neat you can continue to do things to make me happy even though your dead.  I don’t know that there will be many more opportunities to feel like that, so I’m soaking it up.

At 1216*, Mom has made great strides to clean the house up for eventual sale.  It was a shock to see the 5 shelves bare of books in the downstairs bathroom.  It will be weird when this place is gone.  But right now it doesn’t seem as sad as maybe it should when thinking of the loss of your childhood home.  Of course, you might not understand that anyway what with how often your family moved growing up.  And maybe since just about all I did for the first 10 years of leaving here was apartment hop, I don’t get it either.  But I think a big part of why I don’t feel sad is because you and Mom made such a great home of the farm.

I came back to Chicago instead of staying at the farm today because the weather was iffy for this afternoon.  I wasn’t psyched about driving your truck back in a thunderstorm (sorry, Dad.  I know you love your beat-up old vehicles but I have heard enough horror stories from both you and Mom about that truck to have second thoughts), and luckily we got enough accomplished at the farm that there wasn’t enough left for me to do to warrant risking bad driving weather.

Except now I’m back here, and it is a little depressing.  Mom asked for me to go through the kitchen and make piles of what she should keep, what should be thrown out, and what might be given away/sold.  It is a chore exactly opposite those at the farm where I could feel your praise and appreciation for all I did.  You would be hurt to see all the “thrown out” and even given away/sold.  You might even get down right angry and banish me from the kitchen after I decided Mom did not need three different types of blender.  (She’s keeping two Cuisine Arts!  Don’t haunt me in my dreams where all you do is die over and over again like you did the 3 months right after you passed!)

I’m pretty sure Mom feels the same way; that she’s going against your wishes as she purges and cleans.  I bet the books were easier because she saw them as joint custody while all kitchen appliances were solely yours.  So if this is something I can do to make the process less stressful for her, I will.  Even if it means you will visit me at night moaning that all you wanted to do was poach one more fish before you died and now you can’t.

Love,

Your Daughter

*1216 is the family’s nickname for our red-brick townhouse on the south side of Chicago.  In 1997, my parents bought several acres – with no pump, electricity, nothing – in south Michigan, a little over an hour away.  They turned it into a dried flower farm during their weekends and eventual retirement.

Looking Back

I’ve had a part III to the day my father died in the draft area for a while.  But I am trying very hard to not dwell on the specifics of his death right now because in a handful of days I will speak at his memorial service about his life.

I have not a fucking clue what I want to say.

My parents have not been an integral part of my life since I was…18?  22?  13?  They had strong feelings that the job of parent meant an independent person as the result.  And they succeeded at this goal.  While my brother has stuck around Chicago a lot more than I, both of us cut the chord pretty quick and easy and young.

I am extremely happy that for the past few years, Tom and I have made the cabin in the north woods a vacation destination and always invited my parents to join us.  One year it was pretty cold and rainy, so we stuck around the cabin more than usual and started working on jigsaw puzzles as something to pass the time.  We’d set them up in the “study”, the only non-bedroom room that wasn’t a straight shot through the main throughfare of the house.  People would come and go throughout the day, drifting in to put a piece or two in place between trips to the kitchen or breaks in chapters of a book.  Then ever since, we always bought at least one new puzzle a year.  It would get the most attention right before dinner – with Dad drifting in between culinary projects and a plate of cheese and crackers on the old typewriter stand that kept the rest of us entertained if the puzzle didn’t.

But I don’t think jigsaw puzzles a euology make.

The reality is, to me my dad just was.  He was an incredibly comfortable person for me to be around (after the dreaded teens).  He loved Star Trek.  He loved to cook.  He never was shy about telling my mom that he could use some backrubs (something I appreciate and model in my own marriage).  He was uniquely clumsy – never tripping much or dropping many dishes, but nearly put out his eye with a posthole digger and sliced open his hand separating frozen veggie burgers.  He was an ex-smoker.  He loved to drink, just beer and wine, and never seemed embarrassed when he’d had a few too many nor ever seemed to feel the effects the next day.  He could play piano by ear and found my sheet music confusing.  He read as if it were a daily vital nutrient – something that is either genetic or enivornmentally absorbed because my brother and I are the same way.  Shy and introverted, he always was a little out of step with normal social rules (another inherited trait), he announced his engagement at his grandmother’s wake because he thought everyone could use some cheering up.  He loved to garden and approached it with a scholarly attitude leaving notebooks of where seeds were ordered, what bloomed when, and a million little plastic sticks littering the house that were to mark the next years plants.  He was messy – almost unsanitary – in the kitchen and the garden, sometimes combining the two because a butcher block is a great place to pot seeds.  He hated to throw things away and in cleaning up I found several bottles of oil/vinegar/spice completely empty yet sitting amongst the collection of viable condiments.  He was kind.  Amazingly kind.  He had the softest heart for animals (except bunnies that ate from his garden).

He was the best.

My Father

Dear Friends,

Originally, I had some posts spelling out the last day of my father’s life.  Or, more specifically, my feelings about it.  I’m writing this on March 29, 2012 as I prepare this space for true public consumption.

He was admitted to the hospital with a punctured lung and pneumonia.  He felt much better right after surgery and declined rapidly throughout the week.  The doctors could not find much wrong that they could fix.  He requested to be intubated and transferred to another hospital.  At this point he was having diabetic complications because he could not remove his oxygen mask long enough to eat anything.

He could not be moved that night because of the weather.  By the morning, several of his other organs, including his heart, were failing.  He technically died of pulmonary fibrosis, a disease which is always a death sentence.  Usually a few months to a few years.  He was always very secretive about his health and doctor’s visits.  It’s possible he received a diagnosis at an earlier time and did not to tell us so he could work hard at the farm without our criticism.  We will never know.

I flew in two days sooner than planned, which means I got to see him and be there for the end.  I’m still not sure if this was a blessing or a curse.