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, one brother and his wife, 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). Afterwards, we'll eat lunch at the Olive Garden, one of Dad's favorite restaurants.

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.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Summer to autumn reading

I like to listen to books on CD while I knit. At my older brother's urging, I recently selected Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. I thought The Passage of Power was long - AH has it beat by two disks. But I did it. I listened to the whole thing, although I had to renew it twice. Fortunately, it was very interesting and educational. I didn't realize just how critical Hamilton's role was in the establishment and preservation of a federal government, as well as the economic framework that is basically still in place today. Aaron Burr was the prototype for the modern day politician (and an asshole). John Adams was a nut case. It's amazing that the nation survived its fragile beginning, and yet many of our modern day issues have their roots in the post-revolutionary period. When it comes to politics, some things never change.

Other recent reads:

  • Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King. Not one of his better novels. The first of a trilogy - don't think I'll read the others.
  • Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail, by Louise Shivers. I'd never heard of this author until she passed away this past summer. The story in this novella rings true.
  • The Divorce Papers, by Susan Rieger. Told indirectly through correspondence, emails, memos, legal briefs, etc. Very effective. Quotes Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing.
  • The Real Thing, by Tom Stoppard. It's a play, so a lot is lost in the reading of it. One of my frustrations from living in the hinterlands is limited access to live performances of plays.
  • Starting Over, short stories by Elizabeth Spencer who is 93. She's still got it.
  • New Life, No Instructions, by Gail Caldwell. Not what I expected and a bit disappointing.
  • Dept of Speculation, by Jenny Offill (pronounced "awful"?). I think I would like to try being an art monster.
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote. Too bad Tru spent more time resting on his laurels than writing.
  • Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt. My daughter liked this one, but I didn't despite the provocative title. In fact, I abandoned it after a couple of chapters.
  • No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy (on CD). Did not see the movie, but liked listening to the book.
  • All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy (on CD). Read by Brad Pitt, the economy of language is stunning, makes Hemingway sound verbose. I didn't realize this is the first book in a trilogy, will have to read the others.
  • Mathilda, by Roald Dahl (on CD). A little disconcerting - I can see why some parents object to this book - but fun.
  • Tibetan Peach Pie, by Tom Robbins (on CD). He is so full of himself I didn't make it to the end
  • After I'm Gone, Laura Lippman. Classic Lippman.
  • Mr. Tall, short stories by Tony Earley. I particularly liked "Jack the Giant Killer".
  • Daring: My Passages, by Gail Sheehy. Having lived through the same time period (but while leading a much less exciting life), I enjoyed this survey of recent history. And yes, Sheehy was *very* daring.
  • The Third Plate, by Dan Barber. I'm enjoying it, but not making much headway due to Nook issues.
  • Misdiagnosed, by Jody Berger. This one will cause you to run screaming from any kind of health care professional, conventional or otherwise.
  • Silences, or a Woman's Life, by Marie Chaix. A bit confusing, and just as scary as Misdiagnosed. Don't get sick, don't get old.
  • Top Secret 21, by Janet Evanovich. One of the better Stephanie Plum novels.
  • Not My Father's Son, by Alan Cumming. I don't usually read celebrity authors, but I'm a fan of "The Good Wife" so I gave this a try. 
  • Stone Mattress, short stories by Margaret Atwood. Loved some of the stories, hated others.
  • One Simple Change, by Winnie Abramson. I already do almost all these things, and contrary to the subtitle, my life is not transformed.
  • Slow Dancing with a Stranger, by Meryl Comer. I heard one or two interviews with the author and was intrigued, but the book was a bit disappointing. Maybe I've read too many books on Alzheimers.
  • Rooms, by Lauren Oliver. When I realized this was about ghosts, I almost quit it, but the story is so well crafted, it sucked me in after two chapters.
  • Sex Is Forbidden, by Tim Parks. I really, really, really enjoyed this book. Most Buddhist nonfiction is a snooze fest, but Buddhist fiction tells it like it is. This is no exception. And such a provocative title!
  • If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name, by Heather Lende. Should be titled, If You Died Here.... Lende writes obituaries for the local paper in her tiny Alaskan village, so the main topic is death. BUT! This collection of essays is very entertaining and uplifting if a bit christiany.
Wow. I've been reading a lot, which is a good thing and one of my goals in retirement. And I read more fiction than I used to. Initially, I had a little bit of trouble giving myself permission to read more - shouldn't I be *doing* something? - but reading *is* doing something.

What are you reading these days?

Monday, November 17, 2014

More Nooky

Once upon a time, I decided I needed a treat and purchased a Nook Color. I found it handy for reading ebooks, took it with me on vacation when I wanted to be able to check email, etc. (I did not have a smart phone at the time), and of late purchased learning games for my g'daughter to play. It was the latter that drove me over the edge, Nookwise.

The primary issue is not being able to install purchased apps. This has happened repeatedly. Customer service recommends a soft reboot and/or archiving and unarchiving the offending app. These tactics have worked for me once or twice. Their next step is to unregister and reregister the Nook, which sounds too drastic to me. The last time I had this problem (this past week, in fact), the customer service rep tried to load the app on his Nook Color and it failed, which means, I guess, that the app is at fault. I received a refund, then I sent the developer an email: Are you going to fix this or not? No reply.

I decided some shopping was in order. After looking around online, I went to Best Buy (NOT because I was going to buy anything there, but because they are all stocked up for xmas and I could check things out; since it is pre-xmas, the sales staff is in assertive mode and practicing their spiels, so be forewarned). Nothing there appealed to me, especially the price tags, so I headed over to Barnes and Noble.

You might be wondering why I would consider another Nook after my experience with the Nook Color, but functionally and financially, that is what I wanted. And that is what I bought, this time the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook 7. It's like the Nook Color and my smart phone hooked up and produced an heir to the throne. The touch screen looks better and behaves better, it has more memory and is faster, and it weighs less than the Nook Color. Since both devices are registered with the same B&N account, there was no fooling around transferring purchases from one to the other. And best of all, now my g'daughter can play her learning games.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

No NaNoWriMo but I did go to a fair

In a previous lifetime, I dreamed about being a writer. For a while, I wrote pieces for a local small town newspaper, and I did manage to publish a few articles in national magazines before falling down the rabbit hole of software development. My ability to write in complete sentences frequently helped me land jobs because engineers are notoriously poor writers.

I still harbor that dream, so when our county library (which I LOVE) sponsored an authors fair, I decided to attend. Over 70 writers hawked their wares in the Great Hall, plus there were several panel discussions in Meeting Room B. I had never been to such an event, but I thought, Hey, I write (blogs), maybe I should go.

I'll say up front I was not interested in buying any books. I am not much of a book buyer in general - my house is too small - plus there is the library I LOVE so much. But I did want to see who these people were and chat up a few.

I'll also say up front that I am a rather shy person, not given to talking to strangers. After running the gauntlet without making eye contact, though, I put on my big girl panties and sidled up to the tables. Some authors must be as shy as I am, as they did not look up from whatever reading materials were currently capturing their attention, but most were eager to discuss their books. I probably insulted a few by asking if theirs were self-published; I wasn't being condescending, I'm just ignorant.

Many of the books were "young adult" (there was a panel discussion on that topic). None of the titles sounded familiar. I recognized the name of just one author, Betty Tonsing, only because she used to live here and was CEO of the Women's Bureau. Her book, Stand in the Way!, interested me because of my recent experience with my dad's hospitalization. (More information on the book may be found here.) So I did make a purchase, and Betty signed it, a plus I didn't expect because, you know, I'm ignorant.

To relieve some of my ignorance, I attended one of the panel discussions, "Reach Your Readers: How to Survive and Thrive in the World of Self- and E-Publishing". The panel consisted of Stephanie Cain (whose blog includes a series of posts categorized as "Self-Pub 101"), Lillie Barnett Evans, Jan Hinds, and Laura VanArendonk Baugh. I came away with lots to think about and lots to research.

And I am also a little excited because I *do* have some ideas for books. Surely, if these people can do it, so can I. All I have to do is apply my butt to a flat surface and start writing. Even if I only publish a dozen copies and force them on friends and family, I will have accomplished something I have always wanted to do.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Watching TV is too hard

Despite spending a good portion of my childhood glued to the "boob tube", I haven't been much of a TV watcher as an adult. For a while, I was devoted to several sitcoms, but as those ended, so ended my interest in passive entertainment. In recent years, that has changed. I don't have cable or a dish, but I have Netflix, which allows me to binge watch all kinds of stuff, from the inane (e.g. "Desperate Housewives") to the excellent (e.g. "Damages").

I actually caught up on a couple of network shows and now try to watch them when they air (which requires I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to tune in). The first one was "Grey's Anatomy". In previous years, if I missed an episode, I could catch it the next day on Hulu. Last week, when I tried to do that, I discovered I would now have to wait eight days to watch it. Baffled, I complained to my daughter, who explained that the idea behind this eight-day wait is to get devoted fans to *pay* to watch a missed episode. (I don't quite know how this works because I am obviously dumb about these things.) The eight-day break put me into a quandary. Do I watch the next episode, then catch up on the missed one? That would be like reading chapters of a book out of order. Alternatively, I could stop watching in real time, always running a week late. Or go back to binge watching an entire season at a time, once a year. Halloween saved me this time - a holiday special bumped GA, allowing me to catch up.

Another show I decided to watch when aired is "The Good Wife". Usually I watch NFL football on Sundays, but I find I am losing interest. Football causes other problems, though. If CBS carries a late afternoon game, the evening shows get pushed back. If the game runs over, the shows get pushed back even further. Last Sunday, TGW didn't air until 10:00PM, way past my bedtime. So, again, do I stop watching in real time? If so, do I watch it online, week by week, or on Netflix, a season at a time?

Once upon a time, we collectively scheduled our lives around prime time TV. For one thing, television was a relatively new phenomenon. For another, there wasn't much else to do. Now there are *plenty* of alternatives. On a scale of 1 to 10 in importance, this dilemma rates a 0. But it gives me something to complain about other than Daylight Savings Time.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Turn the page, stir the soup

In one's younger days, the death of an agemate is usually from something like a car accident, completely sudden and random and rare. Eventually, death from natural causes starts becoming the norm, beginning with the heavy smokers and drinkers, which is somewhat easily accepted and expected. But when the seemingly health-conscious ones start toppling, we are suddenly facing our own mortality.

The most recent agemate death is that of a college friend whom I knew and liked but was not particularly close to. I wonder if she had any regrets other than wishing she had gone to the doctor sooner (although I doubt that would have made any difference - a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is basically a death sentence). She was an English teacher, and during the summer embarked on some interesting adventures such as attending a Shakespearean workshop and participating in a pilgrimage through Spain. We tried to get her to Women's Weekend, but she was usually involved elsewhere.

What regrets will I have when the time comes? There are some things I would like to do while I still can, but they are not critical to my happiness. I'm not inclined to take a trip around the world or write the Great American Novel or become an expert in anything other than dabbling. I actively seek inner peace, but that is a process, not a goal. I really can't think of anything all that critical that I need to do before I pass on.

The few regrets I do have are based on things I could have done better. I could have been a better parent, could have made some different decisions regarding my education and career, could have been kinder at times. But most of those things would require that I be someone other than who I am. And I am stuck with being me.

The husband of a friend of mine suffers from chronic heart disease. After his first near-death experience, he took stock of his life and focused on completing a long time goal. After his second near-death experience, when asked how that affected his outlook on life, he just shrugs. Been there, done that.

I love my kids, and am proud of them. I absolutely adore my granddaughter and am happy to be a regular presence in her life. I made it to retirement, which I hope to enjoy for many more years (knock on wood!) Someday I may have to give up the gardening, the knitting and spinning, the rest of it. But not yet. Please, not yet.

Friday, October 03, 2014

No naps for you!

One of the delicious things about retirement is, if you get sleepy in the afternoon (or morning or evening), you can stretch out on the couch and take a nap. My usual MO is 10-to-20 minutes, just enough to reset the meter, like a power nap. Follow up with a cup of coffee or tea, and I'm ready to go again.

Occasionally, though, I fall into a deep, deep coma-like sleep that lasts 90 minutes, about the length of a full sleep cycle. During this dead-to-the-world state, I may try to rouse myself, struggle to open my eyes, to no avail. Sometimes I dream I am trying to open my eyes and can't, even though I am doing something sight-worthy like driving a car.

The long naps would not be a problem except sometimes I can't risk being unable to wake up in a timely manner. Like today, I'm dying to doze off for a bit, but I'm making bread and don't want to ruin it or burn the house down. (I can see me dreaming I am trying to escape a burning house but can't see because my eyes won't open.) Or the days I pick up my granddaughter after pre-school. Can't fall down on the grandma job.

Usually, those long naps occur after a poor night's sleep. Sometimes they also cause a poor night's sleep, like last night. Not only could I not get to sleep, but once I was asleep, a storm woke me. Betsy is afraid of storms but also getting kind of deaf, so she didn't waken then. She waited until about an hour before I had to get up (contractors coming today) to make sure my sleep was shortened at both ends.

At least I don't have to go to work on top of a crappy night's sleep.