Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Geezer Considers Columbus Day

A few years ago, Beni and I visited New Mexico, our first extended stay there.  Our first stop (driving south on I-25 from Denver) was Taos.  In Taos, we visited the Taos Pueblo where there is a Pueblo structure built sometime around 1100 CE.  Until the day we visited the Pueblo, I had no idea there were structures in the USA that were so old.

We went on a tour with a member of the Pueblo community, an educated, beautiful, and eloquent woman, 25 years old at most.  Part of the tour had to do with the churches that have existed in the Pueblo.  The Franciscan Friars built a church there which the Pueblo citizens burned down sometime in the 18th century (if memory serves. . .  I didn’t research this before writing).  Years later, a smaller church was built to replace the one that was burnt.  It seems to me that the young woman told us that, after the church was burnt, the Friars were kept out of the Pueblo for years.

What I remember very clearly is the explanation that this young woman gave of the Pueblo community’s understanding of their “conversion” by the Spanish Franciscans.  What an education her lecture was for me!

I used to be a Franciscan Friar.  Back in the 1960's Fra Junipero Serra was in line for canonization for bringing Catholic Christianity to large parts of the West.  As a friar, I was taught the standard church line back then that the Friars had saved all these pagan souls by “converting them to Christ.”

The young guide explained to us precisely how the Pueblo community felt about being saved for Christ.  They hated it.  They saw it as a tool to force them into political and social enslavement to the Spanish conquerors.  More intensely than that, however, they felt that the Franciscans forced them to give up their own spirituality and accept only Catholic religious teaching and practice as valid.  Their anger towards, and understandable hatred of, the Friars led them to torch the church.

The Pueblo spirituality is still practiced alongside Catholicism.  The community has a prayer hut where members go to pray, meditate, rest, and worship.  Their spirituality is one of respect of all creation and of union with it.  Their Pueblo belief doesn’t include a command to subdue the earth and be masters over it, as Genesis tells the Judeo-Christian traditions to do.  Their sense is that people are part of nature, equal to, but not superior to, all other parts of creation, and that all creation has a proper role to play in the life of the earth.  Respecting and loving what is all around us, seeking union and peace with one another, and trying to do one’s best to fulfill one’s own proper role...  all these are tenants of the beautiful spirituality that the Friars sought to destroy.

As a former Friar, and as a cradle Catholic, I was overwhelmed by what I heard, by its obvious truth and the horror the young woman’s story contained.

So, on Columbus Day, and a few days after the Feast of our Holy Father Francis, I hope that Columbus Day is abolished, that the Friars somehow formally do penance for all that they did in New Spain, and that we celebrate in October a day honoring the rich and beautiful culture that Columbus, the Franciscans, and all the rest of us down through the years almost destroyed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

In which the Geezer Rants About "Christians"

I don’t like metaphorical closets.  I was in mine for the first 40 years of my life, and it was a deadly place for me.

Still. . .

I have had it with so–called Christians who batter all of us over the head with their so–called Christian morality, world–view, and customs.  I’m sick, sick, sick of hearing about the fantastical rapture, the fires of hell that are in store for sexually active gay people and others, the non–biblical earthly rewards that these so–called Christians believe God will give them if they “accept Jesus as my personal savior.”  I’m sick of it all, and I want these people to go into their own closet and stay there.

Once, at a gay friend’s retirement party, a woman “of a certain age,” who considered herself liberal (“How will this country ever recover from Bush?”), said to me as we sat next to one another at dinner: “I fully accept the fact that Michael and most of his friends are gay, but is there really a need to be so public about it?  Do you have to kiss one another whenever you meet?  Do you have to be so clearly gay?”  I deeply disagreed with her on this point, and we had a polite, even cordial, debate.

Now, though, I find myself thinking the exact same thing about so–called Christians:  Do you have to be so public about it?  Do you have to talk about your personal religious beliefs and experiences every chance you get?  Can’t you tell me that you consider yourself a Christian and just leave it at that?

It’s worse — oh, so much worse — when the so–called Christians are in public life.  Take the members of the tea party as an example.  Many of them call themselves "Christian," and at the same time call for an end to Federal and State government programs that help the poor, that protect old geezers like me, that take care of vulnerable women and children.  These are functions, they maintain, of the private sector, and especially of the so–called Christian churches.  Holding the Bible in one hand and Atlas Shrugged in the other, they prattle on warning of the coming socialist America and telling us that their Jesus wants everyone to accept him and, once everyone has accepted him, the earthly rewards of wealth, solvency, and security will be there for all of us.  It’s like some kind of magic for these people, and it is so NOT in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus had one test of discipleship, and one method of evangelization:  “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13/35, International Standard Version).  Jesus never counseled his disciples to win people over with promises of earthly wealth and success.  He never cautioned against doing too much for one’s neighbors.  He never said that governments have no role in works of mercy.

So, Paul Ryan and all you others: shut up about religion.  Shut up about the need for “faith–based programs.”  Shut up period.

If you want to be open about your faith, then do precisely what Jesus suggested: love one another.  If you all were to do that perfectly and limit your evangelization to love, then your churches couldn’t hold all the converts.

If that’s too much for you, however, then, please, stay in your closet!!!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Geezer Wonders as He Wanders

I keep questioning and wondering about God.

At least once a day over the past month or so, I find myself saying the following prayer for my Mom: “Eternal rest grant unto my Mom, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.  May her soul, and the souls of all our family’s faithful departed rest in peace.”

I say it, but I don’t know if I believe in the God to whom I pray.

My Dad was an alcoholic – “chronic acute alcoholism” was listed as the cause of death on his death certificate.  He also suffered from pathological insecurities that made his life, and the lives of my Mom, my brother, and me frequently horrible.  He died in 1981.

So God, if God exists, has received and, according to the Catholic theology I learned in my youth, judged my Mom and Dad.

The only God in whom I would be able to believe at this point in my life would have welcomed both Mom and Dad into God’s Kingdom.  Mom would be joyfully greeted because her life was one of love, generosity, family, friendship, and work.  What the Church taught me agrees with this belief.

Dad would be accepted because all the evil he caused was caused by illnesses for which he never had treatment and against which his self–propelled attempts at behavior modification were totally futile.  Mom was worthy of Heaven; Dad was so sick he had no free will to choose good over evil and so could not be excluded from Heaven because he wasn’t morally responsible for the awful things he did to us.  I don’t think Church teaching would agree completely with this belief.

So I wind up wondering again about God, Heaven, Hell, and faith.  I find myself totally unable to accept much of which the Church taught me about life, death, eternity, and myself.

Life at 65 would be different — not easier, really, but different — if I had the faith I had when I was younger.  I wish, in a way, that I still had that faith.  But I don’t.  All I have are facts that argue against the teachings of the Church.  All I have is the strong evidence of my life that the Church, the Bible, and people of faith are wrong in so many ways.  Nothing Christianity professes is trustworthy to me because so much of what it teaches I have found to be wrong.

The founder of L’Abri, the Protestant Evangelist and scripture scholar, Francis Schaeffer, had a son, Frank.  Frank Schaeffer has written several books about his journey of faith, interesting books describing an interesting life.  Once, in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Frank Schaeffer told Terry Gross that he chooses to believe now, in the face of many reasons to disbelieve, because belief makes him feel better about living.

I think belief would make my life more comfortable.  To use a desire for comfort as a reason to try too profess a faith about which I’m so unsure, is impossible for me.

So I continue to question and to wonder.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mom, Dad, and Things

Jesus said a lot about things.  “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!” (Luke 12/27 & 28).  “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Luke 12/33 & 34).
As a young man, this is how I was taught — urged — to consider things.  Use them as needed, be thankful for them, but don’t be attached to them.  This attitude rambles around in my psyche.  I value possessions, but, as I grow older, they become more a burden than a joy.
My mother, in her final years, spent a lot of time getting rid of stuff.  She wanted to end her life with only those things she needed: her home; a few keepsakes that are meaningless to anyone but her, my brother, and me; a few clothes and a few pieces of jewelry; her television; and her car.  All the superfluous stuff she gave away or tossed.
Mom gave me her car and, because she died here, she left me what few clothes she had when she came here, a little jewelry, and some photographs.  She also left me the linens and furnishings of the bed in which she died.  Her bills were all paid and she owned her condo, so she didn’t leave me any obligations.
My Dad died in 1981 (on Christmas Eve, as a matter of fact: my brother said at the time, “Dad always hated Christmas”).  He left my brother and me his tools along with a car and a few clothes.  He left us no obligations either.  My brother, who actually uses tools to great effect, took most of them with my total agreement.  My brother, though, insisted that I take a basic tool box so that either Beni or I would be able to do simple work around the house.  I took the tool box. I have used its contents, however, maybe three or four times in the 30 years since Dad’s death, although Beni has used them fairly often.
7 years of therapy allowed me to see my Dad’s treatment of me (and of my Mom and brother) as physically and emotionally abusive.  Even on his deathbed, when I was a dad myself and almost 35 years old, I was afraid of him and, honestly, had hatred for him because of what he did to all of us.  My attitude toward his stuff, then, was to get rid of it and never see it again.
Now I mourn my Mom, who died one month ago tomorrow.  Her stuff — her car, her remaining jewelry, her keepsakes, and her bed furnishings — I hold onto for dear life.  I sleep on the pillow and under the comforter that were on the bed on which she died.  I have her small pillow, the one she used to help keep her back comfortable in her chair, in my chair, and I sometimes hug it, once in a while with tears but always with a need to be close to her.  I saved the night dress in which she died and have it with my few other valuable things.  When her car was vandalized last Thursday night, I was heartsick that someone should do such a thing to my Mom.
I worry that I am going off the deep end here, but, lately, I’ve noticed that my need to be close to Mom’s things is lessening.  So maybe I’m okay.  I know only that I miss her and, unlike my feelings for Dad, I loved her and respected her and admired her.  What stuff of hers that I have probably will become just stuff for me after a while.  But, for now, her stuff is what I have left of her physical presence.  Her things are like relics and I want them close by.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hey, "Conservative, Christian Gay Man": Shut the Fuck Up!
It’s been a difficult day.  I had to spend time with my Mom’s bank, with her attorney, and with the Funeral Home.  Then my dog had some kind of gastrointestinal blowout all over the rug.  The grocery store didn’t have any Coke Zero (I am a certified addict) or any Mr. Clean with Fabreeze (see comment about dog and rug above).  All–in–all, a less than stellar day, although the weather was glorious.

Then I log onto Facebook seeking diversion and maybe a little fun, and what do I find but the story linked above.  Some asshole gossip columnist in Chicago (a self–described "conservative, Christian gay man") and one other reporter are saying that President Obama is in the closet, that he’s really gay.

A perfectly shitty way to close out a perfectly shitty day.

What bothers me about this, you may wonder.  Well. . .

It makes being gay seem to be a bad thing.  These reichpublicans want to malign the President, so they allege he's gay.  I can imagine their delight in the repercussions as fellow know–nothings jump for joy at the “news.”

The rumor was started by an admittedly gay man, although how anyone can claim to be gay and conservative and “Christian” and keep a straight face is beyond me.  Even if the President were gay (notice the subjunctive mood, indicating by glorious English grammar that I’m believing nothing of this ridiculous rumor), why out him?  If a person had been consistently against gay people and causes, while himself being gay, then I believe outing is appropriate.  To out someone for no other reason than to mess with the minds of fellow idiots is unfair, malicious, and self–hating.  But any “gay conservative Christian” is self–hating by definition, in my opinion.

My gaydar is pretty good, even at my advanced age.  Believe me, if the President ever had emitted even the least gay sign, my gaydar would have buzzed.  It never has.  I search the universe for men who, like the President, are brilliant, attractive, effective, and charismatic so that I can turn my gaydar in their direction.  I am as sure as I can be without being the President or Mrs. Obama that this conservative asshole is wrong.  The President, sad to say, is straight (but, as the cliche goes, not narrow).

Rant over.  Tension released.  Conservative gay christian now goes in the recycle bin of my mind.

Monday, September 10, 2012

In Which the Geezer Falls in Love

Gus — real name is Angus — is my dog and I love him.

Last March, my daughter, Sarah, was thinking of getting a third dog and a second Border Collie.  She found a breeder in far–off Southern Virginia whose pups she admired on the internet.  Early Sunday morning, March 11th, she called and asked if I would drive down with her — 6 hours one way — to see the pups.  It was a gorgeous Spring day and I was happy to go with her.

When we got to the breeder’s home, we were shown the latest litter of Border Collie pups, a large litter of 10.  Sarah fairly quickly settled on one pup and made arrangements to take the pup home.

While Sarah was going about her business, I noticed a pup way off from the others in the fairly small puppy play area.  I thought he was gorgeous, although I didn’t know his gender at the time.  I asked the breeder about him and found out he was a male and the one pup in the litter who almost exactly resembled his daddy, a Grand Champion.  She seemed a little reluctant to show him to me, but she finally did.  The pup would have nothing to do with me.  Outside the puppy play pin, he wanted to play with the older dogs who had free run of the back yard, and that’s what he did.  The breeder corralled him several times for me, and I just fell in love with him on the spot.  The breeder quoted me a price, but again seemed reluctant to part with him.  I bought him and, with Sarah’s pup, we started for home.

By the time we came to the closest town, about half an hour away from the kennel, Sarah’s pup had vomited several times in the car and was showing other signs of severe stress.  We stopped the car, and Sarah — who is a real dog whisperer — tried to calm her pup.  She couldn’t.  After a half hour or so of trying to get the pup to settle down, Sarah decided to return the pup to the kennel.  On the way back to the kennel, my pup also vomited and started to stink to high heaven.  I thought about returning him, too, but decided fairly quickly that I would keep him.  All I had to do was to look in his eyes and I was re–hooked.

On the trip home, it became obvious to Sarah and me that Gus was not used to being with people.  He was extremely wary any time either Sarah or I would try to interact with him.  When we stopped to give him a pee break, he tried to run away.  We cornered him as he hid from us underneath a dumpster and with difficulty got him back into the car.

We got Gus home about 2 am on Monday morning.  He still had a very strong and very vile odor, but I put him in my bedroom with me and went to sleep.

Next morning, I awoke to notice that Gus had made it through the night just fine, and that he didn’t stink quite so much.  I also noticed that he had ripped apart two of my Agatha Christie paperbacks.

I went out and got a wire kennel to put in my room so that he could stay there overnight without decimating my books.  I got a leash, a collar, and a harness and started to walk through town with him.  I took him with me in the car just about everywhere I went.  By day three or four, his vile smell had disappeared.  We have found out since that the smell is a sign of extreme stress.  When I went to Florida in May to get my Mom, Gus had to stay home, the first time he and I had been separated.  His stench returned, but disappeared within an hour of my return home.

In less than a month, Gus was acclimated to life with us.  He grew to love our older Border Collie, Ben’s dog Lucky.  Gus and Lucky would play for hours.  Even at 3 months, he was almost as tall as Lucky, so we knew that soon he would be much bigger than Lucky is.  He passed her in height in June; in weight, in July.  Now, at 8 months of age, he weighs about 50 pounds.  He is very lean and quite strong.  Lucky plays with him much less now that he is larger, but Gus never tires of trying to lure her into a game of chase or tug–of–war.

He has turned out to be the sweetest–natured dog I have ever had.  He loves people — everybody he meets.  He especially loves kids.  He goes crazy with delight whenever my granddaughter comes to visit.  On walks, he always pulls in the direction of kids when he sees them anywhere near us.  When he sees really small kids, tots, he gets down on his belly and approaches them, apparently knowing that the little ones scare easily.  He is amazing.

He loves to be hugged, and his favorite thing is to be kissed on the top of his nose.  When he wants affection, he’ll put his head under my arm and get the rest of his body as close as he can get it to mine.  He’ll stay that way for 10 or 15 minutes, just enjoying the physical closeness.

He talks to me constantly in many different types of barks.  He barks at me if I have the light on reading in bed and it has been on too long to suit him.  He’ll bark at me when he’s mad.  He’ll bark at me in greeting. . .  he is very verbal.

Gus is in a way my best friend.  He comforted me when Mom died.  He was happy with me when I felt silly and started dancing one day.  He loves just to be with me, regardless of how I feel or what I’m doing.  And I sure like having him with me.

That’s the story of my best bud, Gus, or at least the story so far.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Geezer Goes to the Jewlry Store

Last January, I made a wish list of things I wanted to do during 2012.  Of those 10 things I listed, I’ve done only 2. . .  so far!

The first thing I did from that list is get a puppy.  I had envied Beni’s relationship with Lucky, and I wanted to have something similar in my life.  I got Gus.  I’ve been very happy to have him, and he seems to be glad to be here as well.

The more difficult thing for me to do from the list was to wear earrings again.  In the early 90's, I had my left ear pierced and wore earrings through most of the decade.  I became increasingly uncomfortable with them after I turned 50, thinking I was too old for such nonsense.  I stopped wearing them.

At the garage where I take my car is a very masculine guy — straight, if my gaydar works at all — who wears two hoop earrings in his left ear.  They are becoming to him, and they fit.  I envied him not so much the earrings as the confidence his wearing of them shows.  I wanted my earrings back.  But, in January, at the age of 65, I realized that I was even more self–conscious about the earrings than I was when I was 50.

In March, I put the earring back in my left ear.  The hole there wasn’t as closed as it looked, and it was easy to put it back in.  I wore the one earring for two months and found that (1) people didn’t seem to notice, or if they did notice, they couldn’t have cared less, and (2) I was very comfortable wearing the thing, most often forgetting I had in.

In May, I had my right ear pierced.  Since then, I’ve been wearing two earrings, usually small gemstone studs, with confidence and no comments, positive or negative.  I think people who notice figure that it’s just another strange behavior from this old gay geezer!

I’m not sure why this earring thing is important to me, but it is.  I guess wearing earrings does several things for me.  It satisfies an old hunger for bodily adornment that I always have been too insecure to satisfy.  It makes a statement about who I am — on several levels.  It allows me, for very little money, to search for, and very occasionally buy, pretty things.  It makes me feel good about myself, I guess.

Of the 10 things on my wish list, I’ve done two.  I’m surprised, really, that I’ve done that many!  I wonder if I’ll surprise myself again. . .

Friday, September 7, 2012

Good and Plenty

My Mom lived with me for the last three months of her life.  I will treasure those days forever.  But. . .

Mom’s father — Ed Dill, whose namesake I am — had a prodigious sweet tooth.  Never was dinner served in his house without some kind of homemade dessert or, if my step–Grandma was too busy, ice cream.  Principally because of the desserts, I loved visiting Grandpa when I was little.

Mom inherited Grandpa’s sweet tooth, but, having a strong sense of proportion in her life, learned to curb it.  I inherited the sweet tooth from Mom, my brother didn’t.  Unfortunately, I didn’t also inherit her sense of proportion.

During Mom’s last three months, she frequently would ask for foods that she had enjoyed over the years, sometimes dishes from her childhood.  Often, these were sweets: ice cream with pineapple and/or coconut in it; licorice of any kind; caramel candies; apple pie; peach pie; toast with butter and honey; Kit–Kat Bars; yogurt–covered pretzels.  I gave her anything she asked for.

The problem was that Mom’s eyes were bigger than her tummy.  I would buy a pint of ice cream and she would eat at most two scoops.  She would eat  maybe five pieces from a bag of licorice.  Thoughtful son that I was, I would eat whatever she couldn’t.  It had been years since I ate so many sweets, so much candy, so much ice cream.

When I went to the doctor for my physical in mid–August, I was sure I would have gained a ton of weight.  Not so.  I had lost weight.  All the work I was doing to keep Mom comfortable paid off in more ways than one!!! Now Mom is gone, but I still hanker for sweets.

Yesterday, I was in a store where they sold my favorite licorice candy, Good and Plenty, in bulk.  I bought a little more than a pound.  I ate about half last night.  I’m keeping up my calorie intake without the corresponding Mom work.  Not good.

I hope I inherit Mom’s longevity genes.  I’ll just have to keep struggling with her sweet–tooth genes.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mom's Death

Margaret Dill Shaner
November 6, 1917 – August 17, 2012
May the Angels lead you into paradise;
May the martyrs greet you at your arrival
And lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem.
May the choir of Angels greet you
And like Lazarus, who once was a poor man,
May you have eternal rest.

My mother died at about 6:00 am on Friday, August 17, 2012.  She died in her bedroom here at our home in Martinsburg, West Virginia.  She was 94 years old.  Had she lived, she would have been 95 on November 6th.

For several years, Mom had complained of extreme shortness of breath.  Around Thanksgiving, 2009, while visiting my brother in rural Northwestern Georgia, she went to the emergency room because she could hardly breathe.  It was the worst her condition had been to that time.  The physician there x-rayed her lungs, listened to her description of on–going symptoms, and diagnosed pneumonia.  Mom was given oxygen, kept overnight in the hospital, and then released.  Returning to her home in St. Petersburg, Florida, she continued to live alone — a situation she almost to the end fought to preserve — and her symptoms continued as before.  In October, 2010, she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a malignancy almost always caused by asbestos exposure, in the lining of her left lung.  She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, the side–effects of which almost killed her.  She stopped chemo in the Summer of 2011 and began a schedule of periodic draining of the fluid from her left lung, a procedure that, at first, gave her a lot of relief, but, over time, did less and less to help her.

Early this year, her oncologist in Florida told her that, although there was no cure for her disease, she might live for an indeterminate time and that she should consider making arrangements to live in a place where there would be more help immediately available to her.  I constantly had asked, invited, and cajoled her to come here to live with us.  After hearing her doctor’s advice, she accepted my offer and we made plans for her to come live with us at the end of March.

She found one excuse after another to delay her move.  Beni was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy in mid–March — Mom said she couldn’t possibly impose on us.  Mom was scheduled to have a permanent drain implanted in her left lung in late April — she had to stay in Florida to have that done.  Mom had to see her dentist.  Mom had to see her podiatrist.  One thing after another put off her move.

Finally, on May 17th, my daughter, Annie, and I went to Florida to get her and bring her back.  Mom moved in with us on May 19th.

From the time she got here, I felt an overwhelming need to take care of her.  For the next three months, until she died almost two weeks ago, I did just about everything for her that she couldn’t do herself.  Her local oncologist put her in Hospice care in early June.  Three times a week, Hospice staff would come to check her medical condition and to bathe her.  My daughter, Annie, would come every time Beni had chemotherapy for her breast cancer (every three weeks starting in mid–May and ending on August 6th).  While she was here, Annie would sit for hours and talk with Mom and take care of her needs.   When she was able, Beni prepared meals for her and sat with her on the front porch.  Mom was my life, 24/7, from May 17th until her death.  And I amazed myself by loving every single minute of the care I was able to give and the time she and I had together.

As the Summer went on, Mom got weaker and weaker.  She needed oxygen constantly.  She fell three times.  The worst fall, in the evening of June 24th, broke two bones in her pelvis.  We called for the ambulance and she was taken to the hospital here in town.  After making sure she had no concussion or other head injury, the emergency room docs diagnosed the broken bones, gave her strong pain medication, and sent her home.  She had severe pain when she tried to walk, but she was pain–free sitting on her donut cushion.  She made herself walk, however, and within three weeks of the fall she was walking almost as well as before.

Even though she used a wheelchair to conserve her breath, she and I went out a lot.  She invited everyone to go out to dinner with us, and we ate out often.  She and I went shopping for new clothes to fit her smaller frame, and for food.  We went to visit the home she and my Dad had built in 1970 in nearby Loudoun County, Virginia.  We traveled an hour and a half one–way to her bank so that she could enjoy the ride.  We went to Northern Virginia to check out familiar sights there.  We went along back roads everywhere to see the countryside.  Her last big trip was to the Allegheny mountains north of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, so that she could see spots she loved from long ago.  She was raised in Northwest Pennsylvania and loved the mountains there.  Every night, as she got ready for bed, she asked, “What’s on for tomorrow?”.  Whenever I answered “nothing,” she was disappointed.

The last week of her life was busy.  The Saturday before she died, we went to Penney’s so she could look for long white pants and check out the tops in the petite women’s section.  Monday, she wanted to go to Target to find a lamp to replace one my dog had broken and then go to the supermarket “to pick up a few things” ($75 worth!).  On Wednesday, her final fully conscious day, she went with me to my doctor’s appointment in Winchester, Virginia, and then asked if we could have lunch at IHOP, one of her favorite restaurants.  She loved IHOP's scrambled eggs and turkey bacon, both of which she ordered and ate, along with an English muffin with butter and honey.

That night, she asked me to peel and section an apple for her to have for dinner.  I prepared the apple as she asked, and she ate it all.  She started to complain of pain in her lower right leg — not deep pain, but severe pain on the skin whenever it was touched.  I gave Mom her sleeping pill and she went to bed about 10:00.  About 2:00 am on Thursday morning, I heard her through the baby monitor I had set up between her bedroom and mine.  She was stirring and obviously turning on her bedside lamp.  I went down immediately and she said that the sleeping pill wasn’t working and asked for some more pain medicine.  I gave her half a dose of pain medicine and another half a dose of sleep medicine and she went to sleep.  I stayed with her until 4 am when I went to bed.

Thursday morning, about 9 am, Beni woke me because Mom was agitated and insisting that she was going to get out of bed, go to the bathroom, and “go home.”  Between the hours of 4 am, when she was perfectly normal, and 9 am, she had become very agitated and semi-coherent.  I called Hospice and asked her nurse to come check on her.  When Natasha, Mom’s wonderful Hospice nurse, arrived, Mom had no measurable blood pressure, was still agitated, and was still talking about going home.  She said that she had enjoyed the coffee and the food, but she had to be back home by 4 o’clock.  Natasha told us that she was dying, to expect her death later that day or on Friday.  Throughout her stay with us, Mom kept asking me how much longer her doctors said that she would live.  Each time, I answered her honestly:  none of them knew.  I promised her, though, that as soon as they told me how much time she had, I would tell her.  When Natasha told us that Mom's death was likely in a matter of a day, I told Mom.  The first time I told her, she said, "Good!".  I wasn't sure, though, that she had understood, so I told her again an hour or so later when she seemed to be more coherent.  The second time I told her, her response was, "Wonderful!".  I know she meant what she said.

I called my brother and my daughters.  One of my daughters, Becky, left work at Noon and came for a final visit.  Becky talked with Mom for several hours and, during their chat, Mom had a significant period of clarity during which she asked Becky about her recent beach vacation and told her about our trip to Winchester the previous day.  She spoke on the phone with my brother, Bob, and with his daughter Cathy.  When Bob's son, Jim, called, Mom was asleep and couldn't talk with him.

The Hospice people called her oncologist who prescribed morphine for her continuing leg pain and another medicine for her agitation.  She took the first dose of morphine at 4 pm, went to sleep, and never woke up.  She never needed the agitation medicine.  When I went to bed at 4 am Friday morning, she had breathing more labored than usual, but she wasn’t agitated and she seemed comfortable in her bed.  At 5:30, Beni went in to give her the next dose of morphine.  Mom’s breathing then was shallow and very relaxed.  Mom took the morphine, closed her mouth tight to keep it in, and continued sleeping.  Beni had breakfast and, with her dog Lucky, went for a walk, returning a little before 9 am.  When she checked on Mom, she saw that Mom had died.  She died with exactly the same tight–lipped expression she had after her morphine dose at 5:30.  We called Hospice, and Mom was pronounced dead.   When we were preparing her for the undertaker, we turned her over on her side to wash her back and the morphine she had been given at 5:30 dribbled out of her mouth.  Her time fo death was set as sometime between 5:30 and 6:00 am.

The whole time Mom was here was a great time for me.  It was a challenge to find foods that tempted her to eat.  With her help, we gave Mom the foods she wanted, like rice pudding, ice cream, and French toast.  When she arrived here in May, she weighed 87 pounds.  The last time she was weighed, on August 1st, she weighed 94.3 pounds - not bad for someone 4'10" tall.  She was very proud of her weight gain, and so were we.  She and I had so much fun together on our outings, and we had so much time just to talk.  I knew that she was dying, and so did Mom.  We frequently spoke about her death.  As the Summer went on, and she became weaker and able to do less and less, she often said that she prayed each night for death.  She wanted to go to sleep one night and just never wake up.  With the help of the morphine, that’s exactly what happened.  I told her often how much I loved her, how grateful I was for so many things she had done for me, how much I admired the courage with which she had lived all her life and certainly showed in its last three months.  Every night when I gave Mom her sleeping medicine she would kiss me and thank me for whatever I had done for her that day.  She was, until the very end, a gentle, gracious, kind, loving, courageous, and stubborn woman.

I miss her more than I have ever missed anyone in my life.  Her death has shown me a new level of mourning.  I think about her all the time.  Painful as it is, I know it eventually will go away, but for now my grief is my statement of love for her.

May she rest in peace, love, and eternal joy.

Monday, January 30, 2012


I don’t know why, but lately I’ve spent a good bit of down time  remembering the vacations I’ve taken in my life.  I have been lucky in this regard.  My mother and father believed in travel and vacations, and we went away for a few weeks every Summer when I was a kid.  As an adult, I’ve done a good bit of traveling, most of it with Beni and the kids.  The memories from these times away make me happy.  I want to record just a few of these memories.

In 1963, my mother, brother, Great Aunt Alice, Great Uncle Charlie, and I went to Dallas to visit Aunt Alice’s sister, also my Great Aunt, Sister Saint Anthony.  From Dallas, we went to Boulder Colorado, to spend two weeks with mt mother’s sister, my godmother and aunt, Marie, and her husband, John.  

The best memory I have of that trip (and it’s filled with many memories of fun and awe) is of the time when we first got to Boulder when Marie and John still had to work and the rest of us stayed at their home during the day.  Each day, we would set up the card table on the lawn and play pinochle all day out under the Rockies.  The weather was perfect, the company was fun, and all of us laughed and played ruthlessly.  Aunt Alice and Uncle Charlie were great pinochle players, and I learned a lot from them during those beautiful Colorado days.

In 1976, I spent the month of August with friends, including Beni, traveling all over California.  In Southern California, we stayed with the family of one of our friends.  In Northern California, we camped out or stayed with a friend’s brother and his family in Santa Rosa.  It was my first visit to California.  I remember so many good things from that month.  We visited Tijuana and were careful to get our liquids from fresh fruit sold by vendors in the streets.  We visited the beautiful mountain town of Solvang, originally a Danish settlement, where we saw fields full of tulips and shared a huge tray of pastries in one of the many pastry shops.  We drove and walked through San Francisco, eating a great meal at a small Chinese–frequented restaurant in Chinatown.

We saw Yosemite, and camped out in Tuolumne Meadows, a wonderful beautiful place.  The night we spent at Tuolumne Meadows, everyone planned to sleep in the back of our van because it was expected to drop below freezing.  Beni wouldn’t hear of it.  She talked me in to joining her sleeping under the stars, wrapped up in cotton sheets inside our sleeping bags.  I slept like a log, as did Beni.  Our other three friends hardly slept a wink in the back of the van.  Although they were in sleeping bags, they hadn’t counted on the metal of the van’s frame absorbing and magnifying the cold.  While Beni and I went to have a delicious eggs–and–pancake breakfast at the small café that then was at Tuolumne Meadows, the others groused and cursed one another and were miserable together.  

I had my first experience of Disneyland on this trip.  I had wanted to visit Disneyland since it was built in the mid-1950's, and I had watched its development on TV’s the Wonderful World of Disney.   One of the best days of my life was that day at the Magic Kingdom.  Beni and I closed the park down, dancing to Cab Calloway and his orchestra who were playing there that night.

In 1992, Beni and I drove with our four daughters across country.  We spent some time at a friend’s condo in Vail, Colorado, and then headed up through Yellowstone to a more Northern route into California.  We took the kids from the Oregon border down the coast to San Pedro, where we stayed with John and Hilda Resich, godparents to our daughter, Becky.  

Most memorable to me on that trip was something I did to try to stop the kids’ bitching about all the driving we had to do.  In a used book shop, I came across a copy of Agatha Christie’s mystery, Ten Little Indians, meaning to read it myself.  It occurred to me, once we were again on the road and subjected to constant complaints, that the kids might get interested in the book.  I read the entire novel aloud to them as we traveled through California.  At night, I would especially enjoy reading to them as we drove through the dark.  The novel has a ditty that runs through it as a theme and as an outline of the deaths Ms. Christie invents for her characters, The kids quickly memorized the ditty, and whenever it would some up in the novel, they all would recite it together, waiting for the next death to occur.  All our kids are great readers, and I flatter myself that this experience contributed to their love of books

In 2004, on a whim, Beni and I flew to Denver and spent a week in a rented car exploring New Mexico, a place Beni had always wanted to see, but which held little interest for me.  We spent the week in Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.  I fell in love with the place.  In a perfect world, I’d be living there now.
We visited the Pueblo in Taos, and saw a pueblo structure built around 1100 CE.  I had no idea there was such a sophisticated society in North America at that time.  Our guide, a young Pueblo woman, told us about the history of the Pueblo, including the natives’ version of what my beloved Franciscans had done there in the 1700's.  Her lecture changed my understanding of what the friars did in the Southwest.  I loved Santa Fe, where Franciscan emblems from my boyhood can be seen everywhere.  One night in Santa Fe, starving and knowing nothing of the local restaurants, we happened into a place called the High Noon Saloon, where we had one of the most elegant dinners we have had in our lives.  We were there by coincidence when Albuquerque had its annual hot air balloon festival.  We were treated to the sight of balloons high above us all over the city.  It was breathtaking.

In 2005, having come into some money from a real estate deal, all six of us, plus Annie’s boyfriend, went on a Mediterranean cruise, starting and ending in Barcelona.  What a time that was!  The kids were out of their teens by this time, and we traveled as adults.  The sights of Avignon, Marseilles, Nice, Rome, and Naples were amazing things to share with the kids.  We saw the newly–elected Pope Benedict XVI at his out–door Wednesday audience.  We saw the ruins of Pompeii and had pizza in Naples.  We had a long, leisurely, very French lunch at an outdoor café in Avignon, surrounded by old and new buildings and the charm of Provence.  My favorite day on the ship was the last day spent entirely on board ship as we sailed back to Barcelona from Naples.  Sarah, Annie, Annie’s boyfriend, and I spent the afternoon playing a cut–throat card game, Spite and Malice, on the balcony of Beni’s and my room.  The weather was perfect, the games were hard–fought, and we saw a baby whale and its mother swim right below our balcony in the beautiful Mediterranean water. The best time of all was the first day after our arrival in Barcelona after flying to Spain.  We had real sangria on the Ramblas, we had tapas for dinner at a restaurant right on the Mediterranean, and we walked through this city of Gaudi.  When Beni and I went to bed at a reasonable hour, the kids went to a club near our hotel about which they have vowed to tell us nothing.

These are some of the best memories I have.  I have enjoyed every keystroke spent putting them down here.  What times they were!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Growing Old Among the Redwoods

My mother at age 90

My godmother and aunt, Marie, died at age 80 of pancreatic cancer.  I’ve been thinking about her a lot since I came down last week with my second attack of pancreatitis (the first was five years ago this March).  While I’m happy to say that my pancreas is cancer–free — only, apparently, “sensitive” and “irritable” like its owner — I’m beginning to wonder if some pancreatic malady eventually will do me in.

In the meantime, I have this more immediate matter to think about:

My Mom is 94.  She comes from a family of long-lived German/Irish peasant stock.  92, 98, 103.5: her family’s life–spans sound more like temperature readings than ages.  When Mom and her 87–year–old cousin and their friends get together, they say of Marie, “Oh Marie — she only lived to 80.”  They don’t even have the decency to add the adverb “relatively” to their comment.

On my father’s side of the family, things aren’t quite as optimistic, although my father’s sole sister lived to 96, and my father’s grandfather, a man of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, fathered his 19th child — with his fourth wife, aged 23 — when he was 91.

All this family history to live up to!!!  Oy veh!!!

Having just turned 65, I look at these family statistics with awe.  It takes effort and courage to get old.  It has taken me some effort and some courage to get to be 65.  To progress farther, it seems to me, is going to take every bit of energy I can muster.

When I was in the hospital — the hospital where my daughter, Sarah, is a nurse on the staff of the CICU — I was harangued daily by the doctors and nurses because of my horrible physical condition and my “lethal” smoking habit.  They were sure, when I was admitted, that I was a very sick old geezer.  I honestly believed they were disappointed to discover that — my sensitive and irritable pancreas aside — I am a fairly healthy old fart.  My doctor, as he gave me discharge instructions, had to say that I recovered from this attack with the speed of a 30–year–old, and that he was amazed at the general health of my “systems.”

Which brings me back to my mother and her family.

I have been obsessed, in the week I’ve been home, with the responsibility of good genes.  I feel as though I owe it to my long-lived forbears to reform my life, lose 100 pounds, train again for the half–marathon (walking only — I believe runners are nuts), and, of course, give up my filthy cigarette habit.  I owe these things to the genes they have given me, and to their collective blessed memory.

But. . .  But. . . But. . .

All that will take work, discipline, pain, suffering, and humiliation!!!  I am retired, for God’s sake!!!  Why can’t my body just do its thing, whatever that may be, and let me the hell alone?

As my mother and her family have shown me, it doesn’t work that way.  My mother hasn’t lived a day since the age of 10 when she wasn’t trying to “lose a few pounds.”  She has always eaten well but small portions.  Her 90–something second husband, now deceased, used to love to eat all kinds of good and rich foods, and he did eat them, although it took him an hour to eat 2 scrambled eggs, 3 strips of bacon, and 2 slices of (whole wheat, of course) toast.  He chewed everything for several minutes, and from time to time would put down his fork or spoon and just sit there.  He was a great guy and I loved him, but his eating habits made me stir–crazy!  All my mother’s 70, 80, and 90–year old friends exercise religiously.  My mother has lunch 3 days a week with “the girls,” aged women whom she met over the past 30 years at the gym now called “Shapes.”  My mother and most of her friends smoked when they were younger — they cam of age in the 30's and 40's.  All of them have long since given up the habit.

In other words, they all work hard to stay fit and healthy.  Regular medical and dental check–ups, constant awareness of opportunities to walk rather than drive, understanding of the latest in nutrition for “seniors” — these are the characteristics that have brought them all into an age that, to me, seems impossible.

The moral of my story: I have work to do!!!  I just hope it doesn’t kill me!