Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Points of note

Greasy Cousin Richard’s real name is Richard, and his wife really is called Fuzzy. Aunt L said that her name is Mary Ellen or something, but Fuzzy said, “Everyone calls me Fuzzy.” So we call her Fuzzy.

Fuzzy looks like a zombie.

Uncle P got through cranial surgery just fine and is recuping in the ICU for some period of time. Brooke’s dad promised to come back for Uncle P’s funeral.

Uncle P’s wife, Aunt D, kept introducing me to people as Brooke’s friend. Yes, we’re friends, but, well, you know, we also have another kind of relationship.

Just before the funeral mass, she introduced me to her sister-in-law, Lisa or something, who shook my hand and said, “Oh! Congratulations!” and smiled really big. I thanked her even though I don’t know what I was being congratulated for. Your grandfather-not-in-law just died! Well done!

The deacon who said the rosary whispered something in 17-year-old Cousin S’s ear just beforehand. “I saw your friend Captain Morgan the other night. He was being chased by a couple of Cokes.” He mentioned this because Cousin S was hospitalized last year for alcohol poisoning.

Cousin S also got caught skipping school because she had her boyfriend call in as her dad, only he didn’t know how to spell Cousin S’s last name.

Dad’s SUV wasn’t able to jump the Corolla, but a tow truck came to jump it, and it started. I got a new battery at Sears, and all is right with the world. No starter necessary.

I love my dad. Brooke is secretly glad her father didn’t come, but she’s very glad my dad came.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Today, there is no title.

Brooke's dad is the oldest of Grandpa's five children. He was born in 1945. Uncle S was born in 1952. Uncle P, Aunt K, and Aunt L were born in 1957, 1958, and 1959, respectively. Except for Brooke's dad, all of the kids live within a few miles of the home they grew up in, about 30 minutes away from us. Brooke's dad lives way the fuck away.

Grandpa died on Saturday morning. Brooke's dad wasn't going to come out. He has an old but serious workplace back injury (he was a high school science teacher) that his doctors were unable to repair, and traveling gives him trouble. All that sitting and being cramped is hard enough for someone who is 6'2", but to add a serious back problem is asking for trouble, and the trip out to see Grandpa two weeks ago took a major toll on him. Aunt L said that yes, he was going to come out, and he was going to bring that wife and little kid of his. Brooke's dad said he doesn't listen to his baby sister, but the next thing we knew, he was making arrangements to fly himself here.

Well, not fly himself. You know what I mean.

The visitations were to be Monday from 2 to 9pm and Tuesday from 1 to 9pm with VFW prayers at 7 and the rosary at 7:30. Mass is at 10am today. Knowing I had a shitload and a half to do at work, I asked Brooke if it would be okay for me to stay behind on Monday, go to part of the visitation on Tuesday, and take all day Wednesday off work for funeral festivities. She agreed that that would work for her.

As I tend to do when no one is waiting for me at home, I stayed a little late at work and got a lot done. I hopped on the 6:48pm bus home and walked in the door at 7:13, according to the clock on the stove. There was a message on the machine from Brooke, which I had kind of expected, but it was muffled and all I heard was something about her mom and that I should call but the phone would be on vibrate and she might not hear. I called. No answer. I called her mom. She had just gotten home from the visitation and was in the process of getting ready for bed because she was to work at the polls yesterday. She said something about food at Aunt L's around 9 and that Brooke would probably be there.

I tried the cell again, and she picked up right away. She told me to hold on and got off the other line with Frog. She sounded frazzled. Uncle P, the uncle who is in end-stage self-induced cirrhosis and who we all believed would be dead by the end of last summer, had gotten drunk, had a seizure, and was being taken away by ambulance.

Brooke: "I. Can't. Do. This. By. Myself."
Me: "Uh…"

Brooke was also trying to tell her father when she should come out and when he should leave, and she totally forgot about our trip to Chicago on Friday and the fact that we have to be in Chicago at 7pm CST. I tell her to call him back, to let him know what's going on and that we can't get him to the airport Friday evening, but that all four of his siblings live within 10 miles of the airport, and one of them can fucking entertain him. I get off the phone with her and call my father. Since Brooke has the cell and we don't have a long-distance plan at home, I ask him to call me right back. The phone rings. I say, "Hi." Pause. "Um, Brooke?" No, no, no. It was Brooke's dad. I explain that my dad was going to call me right back, and he keeps me on the phone for ten minutes to give me his itinerary and take me on a guilt trip. "Hey, you can just drop me off at the airport Friday morning. There's a lot to do at the airport. I'll just go shopping."

I get off the phone with him and call my dad. Dad calls me back. I answer, "Hello?" and it's my dad.

I give him the whole story: Grandpa, Brooke's dad, Uncle P, seizure, mass at 10, etc. "Oh, geez," Dad says. Dad writes it all down and asks if it's okay with him that he stays with us Tuesday night so he can come to the funeral. It's Lent, so I don't shout Hallelujah, but I want to. Yes. Yes, you can come and stay with us. Please come and stay with us. Thank you for coming to the funeral and staying with us and entertaining Brooke's dad while you're here. God bless you, Daddy. He plans to arrive in time for the rosary on Tuesday. I hang up and get a beer, broom, vacuum, and a set of clean sheets. The rec room needed me.

Tuesday morning, I head to work and amuse the aforementioned Frog by telephone with my very own bitter rendition of the story.

Then Brooke calls. Uncle P needs brain surgery, and her dad missed his flight. No clue on Uncle P's medical situation, but her dad plans to catch the next one and arrive later this evening.

We make it to the funeral home, and over tea and brownies, Brooke turns to me and says, "Nothing else can go wrong." It made me wince. I learned once never to tempt fate like that.

Later on, after I encounter such extended family members as Greasy Cousin Richard and his wife Fuzzy, and we spend two hours trying to figure out when in the world Brooke's dad is arriving, he calls. He couldn't get on the next flight out. The next one he could make would arrive after the funeral, and there didn't seem to be any point in that. Uncle P's brain surgery is scheduled for Thursday. Between my various sources, I learn that he has two clots, bleeding on the brain, and a subdural hematoma. I have no idea if any of these things overlap or preclude the others.

This is just getting absurd.

My father arrived about an hour and a half later, and we sat through VFW prayers (and put "In memoriam 2003" poppies in Grandpa's casket) and the rosary. The coolest Coney Island I've ever been to (they have a wine list and veggie burgers) is just around the corner, so we went. Only we didn't just go. Dad was going to follow us there, so we piled into our car and it wouldn't start. It's never not started, and it make the most horrifying noise I've ever heard that car make. Brooke goes in to tell the funeral home people that we're leaving the car there overnight, and I brought two purses, two laptops, and a work bag into the back of Dad's SUV. And then we went to Coney Island. I was in heaven. Or, at least, I was getting grease and alcohol and didn't need to cry just yet.

Dad thinks it's either a bad starter motor or that the battery needs to be replaced. Brooke turned to me and said, "It's going to be easy and inexpensive." There was to be no discussion about that.

If you read this far, I should probably send you a dollar or some cookies or something.

And we haven't been to the funeral yet.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Another reason to hate February

Brooke’s grandfather died on Saturday morning. He was doing better, and they had planned to send him home today. The hospital bed was to be delivered Saturday afternoon, and Aunt K had arranged to take a month’s leave of absence from work. She works as a nurse, a hospice nurse, actually.

Some time on Friday, Grandpa took a turn for the worst. Brooke was recovering from a cold and had intended to see him this weekend, but we found out too late that it was too late.

Today, Brooke is at the family and community viewings. The rosary is tomorrow evening, and mass is at 10 on Wednesday morning. I want to say funny or poignant things about his life, but I don’t really have it in me to make them appropriate and amusing. All I know is that I listened to him. I’m told that he repeated stories, so no one else wanted to hang out with him while he was feeling talkative, but I hadn’t heard any of them before. He told me about his grandchildren and his work with the Boy Scouts. The only story that sticks out in my mind is the one I heard over Christmas.

When they were newly married, he and his wife were driving back to Pennsylvania from California, and they stopped in Las Vegas. On a whim, Grandpa did a little gambling—something he never did before and would never do again, he insisted—and won $8,000. When they arrived in PA, they bought their first home and had money leftover.

Brooke says this story is bunk. Her mom says it might be true but doesn’t sound quite right. Her dad also says it’s not true. I still believe it.

I don’t see the harm in believing it, and I miss him already.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Niece, nephew

Adho Mukha Dartihasana (Downward Facing Toddler)

Swiffer Toed Baby

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Truer words have never been spoken

Office mate: "...that is, if you're able to make it in. We're supposed to be getting three to five inches tonight."

Student: "Is that a lot?"

Office mate: "It's not as much as two feet. Two feet is a lot."

Friday, February 11, 2005

The first Friday in Lent

I love my brother. I love him because he’s my brother, and I know that deep inside him, he’s a kind and loving person. We’re not close. When I hear about the fun others share with their siblings, it’s like listening to someone talk about their pony. I don’t have those experiences to share, and I never will.

It’s not for lack of trying, of course. I do try to bond with him occasionally, and it always ends up slightly awkward, as though I’m trying to do pony things with my cat. We’re not naturals at this sibling thing. I know we have no hobbies in common, and the few overlaps of music or movies we enjoy are only by coincidence. We share the same parents (though you’d never know that to look at us), and we both enjoy spending time with the woman he married.

A few years ago, he invited me to join him while he went to lift weights. At the time, I weighed in at a reasonable 130lbs. His very first lift, the very beginning of his warm-up, was 140lbs. I had to help him into his squat briefs. The last time he sat on me, I was probably 18 and he was 22. This was the closest I had been to his ass since then, and it was the closest I had ever intentionally been. I will never do that again.

My brother and I are just different. To see us, we don’t appear to be related. To speak to us, you’d never guess we grew up in the same home at the same time with the same people. He lives in a city roughly 75% larger than mine and prides himself on the extent of his redneckness. Given the choice, he would move to a smaller town and I would move to a larger one. He shoots squirrels with a BB gun. I take photos of them as they eat out of the compost bin. He eats copious amounts of meat in small periods of time. I’d do anything for kale. He does powerlifting. I do yoga and Pilates. His grammar and vocabulary have deteriorated since he left home. I’ve worked to improve mine as much as possible. He likes the Dixie Chicks because they’re hot. I like their harmonies. He’s into motorcycle rallies, deer hunting, and the Old West. I prefer small boats, big lakes, and the Appalachian Trail.

This Sunday is the first anniversary of our mother’s death. Paul, Hope, Hannah, Brock, Brooke, and I are spending it at Dad’s house. Hope is working tonight, so Paul invited Brooke and me to head over to their place tonight. We’d leave Brooke home with the kids, and Paul and I would go out to see one of his favorite bands play.

Me: “Brooke has a meeting, so we wouldn’t be able to make it until 11.”
P: “That’s okay! They’re on until 1:30 or 1:45.”
Me: !!
P: “All of the big bands play three sets about 45 minutes apart.”
Me: “I have never heard of this.”
P: “They do! They’re great, Em. You’re going to love it. They’ll go from playing, like, Pantera to Pink Floyd just flawlessly. If you close your eyes, it’s just like listening to the [insert Pink Floyd album of which the author has never heard] CD.”
Me: “Um, wow?”
P: “Yeah!”

How is it that I’m the one who thinks that 2:00A.M. is too freaking late to be out, and yet, he’s the one with the children? Sadly (?), Brooke’s meeting is extended until 9:00P.M., and we wouldn’t make it to Paul’s place until midnight. As it is, it will be past my bedtime when I get to Dad’s at 11.

Happy anniversary, Mom.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

'Tis the Season

Almost two weeks ago, Brooke’s grandfather went into respiratory failure. He woke up in the middle of the night and stumbled out into the hallway of the house he shares with his son and son’s family (B’s Uncle S). Uncle S heard him and woke up. As Grandpa began to collapse, Uncle S caught him, and they both fell into the bathroom and against the toilet. The toilet broke, and the bathroom started to flood. Uncle S pulled Grandpa up and out into the living room and propped him on the couch. His skin was gray. Uncle S called 911, and the paramedics arrived. They were unable to get a heartbeat. Grandpa wasn’t breathing. They told Uncle S that they were sorry, but they couldn’t take him to the hospital. They said that Uncle S would have to call the coroner.

“Oh, wait. I think I got something. Let’s load him.”

And so Grandpa went to the hospital.
Where he was offered a hospice referral.
Which he declined.

He was admitted into the ICU and stayed there for about a week and a half. He had a feeding tube and was on a ventilator. Both tubes went into his mouth and were secured there by a long piece of gauzy fabric tied around his head and into his mouth, almost like a gag. We visited last Wednesday, and his left hand and arm were swollen and discolored. It was the color of eggplant. It was aubergine. He was asking for his oldest child, the one who doesn’t live nearby and who he hadn’t seen in over two years. He was asking for Brooke’s dad. We called. We searched for reasonable airfare. He arrived on Sunday after traveling 1500 miles.

Grandpa was pleased, but he wasn’t any better. Two days earlier, he had had a tracheotomy to have a ventilation tube installed directly into his throat, and the feeding tube was now going through his abdomen to his stomach. Monday afternoon, Uncle S reported that Grandpa was not expected to be discharged except into hospice care, but he was downgraded into an intermediate care unit. Tuesday, yesterday, he spent the entire day off the ventilator.

Aunt L asked him what he’s giving up for Lent. He waved his hand at the ventilation machine. All of that. He’s giving up the ventilator for Lent. Damn it, he’s giving up the hospital for Lent. All he wants right now is to be in his own house with a cup of coffee. He’s a strong Polish Catholic who missed his Shrove Tuesday paczki. I think he’s going home, and I think he’s going home soon. Not home like Heaven, like hanging out with God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost, but home like his house. In that house where he almost died, he raised five kids and watched his wife die. She was 48. He’s now 83, and he’s going home for Lent.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Of course. Of course.

A horse is a horse. Mr. Ed was not a horse.

I think I need to go lie down.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Out of character

Comments on the Inauguration

I feel small. I’m bigger than I look, I think. No one would guess that I’m nearly 5’8” because I slouch and curl my knees into my chest or sit on my feet. When I eat, I sit close to the table. I feel older than I am, and I am younger than I look. I’m permanently partnered, and I own my own home. Well, the bank owns it, but they’re very nice about letting me live there and do what I wish with it. We’ve been starting and stopping and restarting and pausing the child attainment process for almost three years. I thought I would have children by now. Not one, but more than one.

I never thought I would dress this way. In high school, I wore carpenter’s pants or fatigues, vintage band t-shirts, and a hoodie. At some point, I realized that my face and body don’t lend themselves to that style. At some point, I stopped dying my hair Cheeto orange and wearing it in pigtails. At some point, I entered a career path and started concerning myself with professionalism. I have always been self-conscious about the way I dress, cared what people around me thought. Every day, I become a little more J. Crew, a little better accessorized, and a little more Midwestern.

I keep house. I do laundry and knit. I’m teaching myself to sew. There are living room curtains to be made, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay a hundred dollars for something I could theoretically do myself. Some projects go more slowly than others, but some projects are just really big. However, painting an eight-by-ten dining room should not take more than a month—but it does, and I own shame for that.

That’s why it was a big thing for me to take off work and drive out to Washington, DC, with someone I’ve never met. I met up with other friends, people whose lives I envy. People with kids or firm plans for kids. People on track with their lives, too responsible to take a vacation day and shout at the Hill. Three years ago, I would have done this in a heartbeat. Five years ago, I would only have asked who else was going.

Thursday, January 20, 2005, I dressed warmly and responsibly and went to Malcolm X Park. I left with the front of the march, just feet from the leaders. I yelled. I stomped. I chatted with other marchers about policies and about my sweatshirt. One fellow marcher told me she heard some great jazz in Denton, Texas, the town where one of my shirt “signers” lives. I told people that NCLB is No Child Left Behind, and that the signer who wrote about it is a special education teacher at a public middle school. They nodded. They got it. They have compassion for the anger he must hold for Bush.

Everyone who was there has that compassion. Everyone in that long, long line of protesters understands why everyone else is there. We know the reasons that other people go to these things. We care about them. We know they care about us.

Although several people took photos of my shirt, none of them have appeared online to my knowledge. Below are links to photos of people and things I actually saw that day. These are from Yahoo. My own photos are a few weeks out.

This guy looks really familiar.
This was a heartwarming moment.
The man in the foreground walked near me during a great deal of the march.

This gif is freely copyable. Just right click, save
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