Sunday, April 19, 2015

The tribe gathers

My dad died last December. We did little to mark his passing then other than inter the ashes, opting instead for a gathering this spring. As weird as some family events can be, this one was nothing but wonderful.

Over 40 of us (including some cousin/spouse pairs we had not seen for over 25 years) congregated at Graceland Cemetery, first by my dad's parents' graves before shifting over to where my mom and dad are buried. Dad was not a religious man, so no prayers were said, no minister presided. Instead, we stood around and shared stories and memories. This loose format worked well because enough time had elapsed since his death we were not mired in grief, although a few tears were shed just the same. Even my younger brother, who intended to remain silent, spoke up.


Then we repaired to my niece's home a few miles away, for the usual post-funereal repast and family reunion. The youngest cousins played, the oldest cousins swapped tales about growing up in Chicago, the family tree was examined (one line traces back to the Mayflower even though we are basically northern European mutts). It truly was a fitting send off for my Dad.

The only sad part occurred when I arrived home and had the urge to call Dad on the phone and tell him all about it. He would have loved it, would have loved being there. He definitely was present in spirit.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Howl

A week ago, Betsy Beagle made her final trip to the vet. She'd been going downhill for some time now: walking on her hocks, one by one giving up her favorite foods, sleeping 24/7. I administered Rimadyl for her arthritis, tried K-Laser treatments as well, which helped some for a while. Getting her to eat dog food became an issue. I tried this and that, and she would either refuse it outright, eat it once or twice before rejecting it, or eat it and vomit. Toward the end, I was cooking for her - chicken and rice, hamburger and potatoes, bacon and eggs - but when even people food went untouched, I knew it was time.

Betsy Beagle, 2012 - 2015

Betsy was a shelter dog with an unknown past. It seemed she had never been inside a house and had no vocabulary (not even "NO"). She was the first dog I've owned that I did not have to share with other family members, and we bonded quickly and deeply. Being a beagle, she loved people but was not a people pleaser. Being a beagle, she had quite the nose, and huffed rabbit scent (and ate rabbit poop) while ignoring the rabbits themselves. Being a beagle, she was a couch potato, which worked well while I was still employed. When I retired, she retired as well, sleeping in each morning.

Canine love is unconditional, uncomplicated, pure. No one loves us like our dogs. Who will love me like that now?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Oops, I did it again

My dog is old (which is a topic for another post) and has become rather lacksadaisical about where she pees. In an effort to contain the damage, I laid a chair across the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, to keep her off the carpet. Then I forgot I had done so and tripped over the chair in the dark, landing nose first.


Compared to last time, this fall had a lot of positives to it: I landed on carpet, not concrete; I missed the dining room table; if I had fallen from the dining room into the kitchen, I could have hit the breakfast bar on the way down; my glasses remained unharmed. There was blood to contend with, and icing one's nose is awkward, but I felt *lucky* things were not worse.

I did go to the doctor to make sure nothing broke. Even though she is a "real" doctor, she didn't examine me as thoroughly as the PA did last time I fell. She suggested having my face x-rayed, but said if there were a fracture, they wouldn't do anything about it, so I asked what was the point? The visit turned into an exercise in due diligence on my part, followed by the purchase of an Ace bandage and two Cadbury eggs.

Almost everything I read about falls discusses balance and muscle mass, both of which are negatively affected by aging, but there is something else never addressed. Once upon a time, when I tripped, the fall occurred in slow motion, giving me time to react. Now the fall is instantaneous - one moment I am upright, the next I am kissing the floor. Is there a remedy for this?

I look worse today than yesterday, and hurt more. The modifications to make my house safer are useless in protecting me from myself. Any remedy for THAT?!?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The ideal vs. the real

Having read a piece in the NY Times by Massimo Pigliucci titled "How to be a Stoic", I find myself drawn to ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. In college, I enrolled in a philosophy course, but dropped it after one week (much to the professor's dismay) because it seemed to be a pointless exercise. Now, in my dotage retirement, there is room in my brain for contemplating such stuff. Apparently, this is part of a trend, as evidenced by such exercises as Stoic Week.

Today I read a piece in the NYer about Seneca, ostensibly one of the Roman Stoics, who it turns out was quite the hypocrite, exhorting us to live one way while doing the opposite. He's not the only so-called paragon to ignore his own advice; Thoreau, Kahlil Gibran, and Chögyam Trungpa immediately come to mind. Which brings up the question of how to balance what one says with what one does.

I suppose it is not much different than parenting ("Do as I say, not as I do"), but I wonder what our cultural advisers thought of themselves. Did their lovely words provide some kind of psychic balance to their messy lives? Were they like me when my kids were toddlers, arising each day with the intention of being a loving, kind, patient mother and turning into a screaming harridan by the end of the day? Were they completely blind to the difference between their philosophy and their deeds? Or did they shrug off any criticism while accepting their foibles?

And what are we to take from their teachings? It certainly seems fair to cherry pick what is helpful and ignore what doesn't apply to our modern lives. It seem prudent to take what they say with a grain of salt. And it helps to consider our path through life a journey where we continue to strive to be better than we are without attachment to an outcome.

Thoughts?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

So many books, so little time

I joined a group on FB called Read26FW, where the challenge is to read 26 books during 2015. This group is for Fort Wayne, but anyone can join, and other cities have their own version of this project. Group members post progress, sometimes with a short review. While I am not interested in most of the books, I have bumped into some new authors to try plus reminders of books I've meant to read but have forgotten about.

As knitting ramped up for xmas and the winter, my reading has fallen off, but so far I am more than on target for 26. (Some were started in 2014, but whatever.)

The Burning Room, by Michael Connelly. I like murder mysteries and I'm a Michael Connelly fan, so was thrilled when this latest Harry Bosch novel "The Burning Room" became available on my library holds list. I cruised right through it. His writing is clear and concise, the characters "true", and he touches on topics like the difference between justice and revenge. If you like crime fiction, this is one for you.

Nora Webster, by Colm Toibin. This is the first book I have read by this "critically acclaimed author", and probably the last, too. Not much happens - it's more of a character study. And even though the blurb on the back says this male novelist writes convincingly about women, I thought he never really broke past the surface. It takes place in Ireland around 1970, and I missed a lot of the references to Irish politics, etc., so maybe I missed other things as well.

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, by Roz Chast. This is a combination of cartoons and text about aging parents, some of which I have seen in the NYer. Chast is brutally honest about the challenges her parents face and the ones she faced caring for them, especially her "bad daughter" feelings. Well worth the hour or two it will take to read.

Tracks, by Robyn Davidson. After seeing the movie, I was intrigued and wanted to know more, so picked up the book. Although the movie and the book share an outline of events, the slant and message are quite different. Of course, I liked the book much better. I added another of her works, Desert Spaces, to my list. She is working on a memoir as well.

You Disappear, by Christian Jungersen. I think I actually finished this in 2014, but don't think I have mentioned it before. It's a Danish novel about a woman whose husband suffers a brain injury. There is quite a bit of information about brain injuries and personality in the book, but it is presented almost like sidebars. Besides an entertaining read, there is a lot of food for thought.

Does your hometown have a "Read 26" group or program? If not, start one!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A resolution with a plan for 2015

When I retired from my job (which, by the way, I do NOT miss at all), I decided not to take on anything new for at least six months. That turned out to be a good thing, as the final remodeling of the house was underway and continued to be underway for what seemed like an eternity. Once that was complete, I settled into what I had planned to do all along during retirement. And very soon became a bit bored.

Not bored enough to find another job. One should never say "Never" but that is how I feel about having a conventional job. I can't imagine the kind of work that would draw me back to the labor force. But I do feel ready to rejoin the rest of the world.

A couple of semi-social opportunities have presented themselves of late. One is a group called the Wild Walkers. Twice a month they gather at a nature preserve of one kind or another and hike. The first gathering of the year is next week, so I'll find out more about what is what then.


In anticipation of becoming a Wild Walker, my SO and I joined the Resolution Reinforcement Hike at Kokiwanee Nature Preserve today. (The assumption is some people will make a resolution to visit all the properties owned by Acres Land Trust. I am not one of them.) We have both been to this preserve before, but not with a group. Despite the cold and blustery day, there was a good crowd. About half went on a physical hike (less talk, more walk) while the others went on an educational hike (more talk, less walk). We chose the former as I did not want to stand around getting educated while the wind froze my cockles. Instead, I worked up a sweat clambering up and down the ravines. I thoroughly expect my haunches to be complaining tomorrow.


All of this brings me to a New Year's resolution of sorts: to get out and about more. I tend to be a homebody, but even though I have a vast capacity for solitude, I do get tired of me on occasion. For a resolution to stick, one needs a plan. Part of my plan includes joining the Wild Walkers whereby all I have to do is show up every two or three weeks dressed appropriately for the weather. I think I can do that.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A good enough death

My father passed away on December 1, at the age of 95. He had surgery in September for a bowel blockage and recovered from that. A second blockage sent him to the ER, and when they started treatment - insertion of a nasogastric tube and catheter - his heart stopped. After two resuscitations, we decided to let him go. My older brother was with him for the end.

Over the past six months, Dad had been going downhill slowly. He was sleeping more, so much so that I would not have been surprised if he had simply not awoken from one of his many naps. I was in the habit of phoning him several times a week, and he sometimes struggled to find words or remember names or dates. After his surgery, he couldn't follow plots or keep track of characters in the John Grisham novels he favored. Facebook, along with most computer tasks besides email, was a lost cause. He still loved to watch the Red Sox, though, listen to classical music and opera, play dominoes, dine with his friends, see family.

After his surgery, he spent about a week in "continuous care" getting rehab so he could return to his apartment. On the first day there, he told me he was in no hurry to leave. But the better he felt, the more horrific that unit became to him. He was one of the few that were mobile; the other residents spent their days in wheel chairs, watching the same show on TV in the day room, clutching teddy bears. He was very happy to leave that place behind, and said he would rather "jump off a bridge" than ever return. With his failing mental capacity, though, that is what I was afraid would happen.

Dad told me that, before the surgery, he had decided that if he were diagnosed with a terminal condition like cancer, he would not seek treatment. While recovering, he had a bout of incoherence caused by low blood oxygen, but it was interrupted by his asking me point blank why we did not just let him go. After the surgery, he said that he "would rather die" than have a nasogastric tube inserted again. So when my oldest brother called to ask if I had any objections to Dad not being resuscitated the next time his heart stopped, I said I had none. It was what he would have wanted.

After my stepmother passed away a year or so ago, I asked Dad if he had done any preplanning. No, he didn't care what we did, but he suggested his cremains be buried in Chicago where his parents and my mother (Dad's first wife) are. My brothers and I decided not to have a service in Massachusetts but to gather in Chicago at a later date, to celebrate a life well lived. With no service, though, sometimes his passing feels like a dream and I get a little panicky thinking I have forgotten to call him.

My two brothers that live in Massachusetts are taking care of business at that end: cleaning out the apartment, executing the will, etc. The brother in Chicago is tasked with interring the ashes. There was nothing for me to do, no ritual to mark the end. But then the Chicago brother thoughtfully asked if I wanted to be there for the interment. So on Monday, my son and I are going to Graceland (cemetery, not Tennessee).

My mother passed away when I was 20. I was young and callow then, and forged ahead into my future without much thought. Older and maybe wiser now, when I look back, I see what a hole was left by her death. Dad's demise is another hole. Even though I am 62 years old, I feel abandoned and orphaned. I miss him very much.