grave blankets?

18 12 2008

“Oh good, you’re here.  I was just about to go to Remus Farms and get a grave blanket.  I got this coupon out of the paper.”

I hadn’t even closed the door behind me.  My mind reeling trying to add up the words to form a picture – grave + blanket.  The day after I left last week she got word that the headstone had been set.  I really didn’t expect to hear before Spring.  But it was an early Christmas gift of sorts.  Needless to say, she was anxious to see the real deal and know that their spot is carved out with no uncertainty as to where they are parked!

She gives me directions to the fruit stand/farm market and I’m delighted to know it is about 20 minutes away.  We get to the intersection of where she expects it to be…and Remus is NOT the name on the sign. Luckily she had jotted their phone number on the coupon that was going to get her a free poinsettia with the purchase of the grave blanket.  We weren’t too far off track – just had to cross the road into the next county.

We were directed to the back of the mostly empty farm stand to the display of blankets.  The best description of what I saw is a mound of evergreens about six feet long properly bedazzled for the season with a price tag of some $75. “Mom, you know he’s not cold right?”    

More investigation led us to see the pillows, baby pillows and wreaths. WHAT?  I got the wreaths but the evergreen poofs with big huge bows on the top???  Not buying it. But what do I know about grave decor.

It was totally her call.  She had brought along a stash of cash she’d been hiding from my dad for who knows how long.  No expense was to be spared. She kept talking out loud about which one she thought my dad would like all the while I was screaming inside that I thought he’d “Bah, humbug!” all of them.

Slowly but surely we determined that too much flash was not Billy’s vibe.  So a simple wreath was her choice because the plaid bow that made it all so Celtic to her.img_38203

By the time we got back cross-county the sun was hanging low in the sky. The stone was totally covered by snow and even brushing it off left the engraving filled.  It struck me as we stood there what a perfect place this was to lay him to rest – he is still doing one of his favorite things even in death…sitting out watching the cars and trucks go by on the highway as the sun goes down.








When I get a…

26 09 2008

I don’t even feel like writing and I take that as a sign that I should.  There are only 15 minutes left till the 25th is officially history.  I wasn’t even tracking on what day it was today until late this evening she drew my attention to it.  A month has gone by and today I feel pretty overwhelmed.

She wanted to go to George’s for breakfast – it was strange to be there without Billy.  George wasn’t even there so she couldn’t personally give him the little card thingy from the funeral.  We left it with the other guy and hope he gives it to him.  Maybe it was being there again that silently set the tone of the day.

I thought I’d be responsible and proactive by fixing the outdoor sconce first thing so soon as we got back home,  I had it taken it down and taken apart. Ninety percent of the project went off without a hitch.  But before long I found myself in the garage and in the basement staring at his work bench looking for specific things I couldn’t fine.  Finally, two more trips to the hardware store and four hours of work lead to so much frustration that by early afternoon,  I called an electrician’s shop and took the stupid thing in to have them fix it.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t figure out how to repair it, it was just a simple logistical matter that got me in the end.

I knew I should get something else accomplished…something significant.  But I had been sabotaged early on.  Looking for what I “needed” and seeing all the things I need to sort through – I hit a wall.  A big wall.  One that reminds me that there is plenty of work to be had around here.  

It’s not lost on me that I was so energized last week by reading someone else’s blog about organizing their work space.  This is my work space. I’ll start with the four boxes method:  Goodwill, garbage, keep and the “Oh God what do I do with this now” box.  I have to be disciplined and remember that this didn’t get here in a day (more like 41 years!) and it’s not going to be taken care of in a day. There will be days that I will be able to do alot…and there will be days that I don’t do much.  I’m really very grateful that she doesn’t have to do this alone.  

I found myself in the basement wishing a dumpster would magically appear in the driveway accompanied by six strong men without bad backs – like the kind you can hire outside the Home Depot on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles for a song and a dance ‘coz they are just thrilled to find “work”.  People I don’t know – but people I can boss – people that won’t engage me in conversation or distract me.  But they aren’t here…

Or someone that walks behind me snapping digital pictures that are automatically uploaded to eBay with the perfect descriptions and eager buyers already bidding by the time it is posted.  There really is a gold mine here.  But do I have the patience, time or energy to recognize it all?  If the group from Antique Roadshow would just pull up outside they could tape 10 episodes for sure.

Tomorrow is another day.  The day after the day he died a month ago.  Supposedly that will make the 25th of next month easier.  Maybe I will have made so much progress by then I will feel better. But for now, I’m officially giving myself permission to take this a baby step at a time and say …it’ll get done when I get a round tuit.

…a thousand words.

25 09 2008

Need I say more?

worker man hands

11 09 2008

Worker man hands. Stout, sausage like fingers, one permanently crooked from getting jammed with a softball – and he never would have such a trivial thing looked at by a hand surgeon. He just rigged up a homemade finger splint and got on with life. Broad backed hands. Almost like a farmer. A firm grip. The winters took a real toll on those hands with constant exposure to sub-zero temperatures, ice, snow, tools, and gas meters – I NEVER remember seeing my dad wear gloves. According to him, he couldn’t get a grip with gloves.  Again, his famous interjection, “What are you going to do when winter gets here?”, uttered in a middle of a howling blizzard just showing the highland-border-collie-type love of the elements and tireless hard work that characterized his life.

Every year – they’d come back…deep splits on his knuckles, in the creases or on his finger tips. Those open splits were always raw and tender…no matter how much goo he’d put on them at night. They weren’t big – not always noticeable. By the time the weather would turn, he’d usually have a reprieve and slowly but surely, his hands would be good as new.  

I look down at my own hands. After 20 years of on again/ off again, unexplainable blistering, deep under the skin which then turns to insatiable itching, followed by peeling, drying and finally cracking – the genius I am, figures – I have eczema. I’ve tried tracking it over the years and I know it is not solely stress induced.  There have been times where I’m under tremendous stress and I have zero problem.  Then when it flares up, I get those same kind of splits and they hurt like the dickens. If I so much as touch certain things to the tips of my thumbs, it can be riviting pain.  Lemon juice, cutting tomatoes or hand sanitizer are not advisable when they are flare up. 

It will generally take a few weeks before they start to heal up and I can get back to using my hands as normal without having to be very careful with them.  They are still my hands.  The fingers all work, they move ok.  I don’t have a fever.  There is no pill to take.  I just have to wait it out – till they aren’t so tender.  I still have to wash dishes.  I don’t get a free pass every time they bother me.  Certain movements really make me wince in pain.  But I’ll get over it.  Very slowly – imperceptibly they get better.  And my life goes on till the next cycle.  I know what to expect – know what it feels like – know when it is starting up again.

I just wasn’t prepared for this morning.  CNN is the background white noise in our house every morning.  And the whine of the lone bagpiper playing Amazing Grace in memory of those who died in the attacks of 9/11 brought a knot to my throat and instant tears spilling out of my eyes.  My personal wounds are still tender.  I just have to wait it out.  Eventually it will heal over and I’ll be able to go about my business without thinking.

Even in the throws of happy hospice hallucinations – those hands were working.  He was fixing things.  He asked us to hand him tools.  He was having trouble with a gas meter repair and needed another hand.  Glad to help.  He’d do the same for me…split fingers or not.


26 08 2008

Billy I know where you are-

you’ve been put back in your proper place and I will find you.

“You me too too and that makes four of us”

              with all the love our hearts can hold-

                                                Rosemary, Melinda, Buddy and “the boss”.

William E (Bill) McNiece  October 31, 1922 – August 25, 2008


p.s.  in case you wondered…this blog is JUST getting started.

hospice bingo

25 08 2008

When we came into the hospice center I feel like we should have gotten a bingo card.  Life isn’t fair and neither is death.  There was a family last week who’s elderly relative was brought in and two hours later – she was gone. They barely had time to find out where the free coffee was.  Then there’s us…two weeks and counting.

Hospice is like the heavenly lotto…I know I’ve said this before but we’ve been overwhelmed with the care that has gone into the design of this entire facility.  A place to do our laundry, quiet rooms to escape to when we need it, a library, baked goods brought in each week by volunteers, pop for 50 cents a can…last Friday two massage therapists giving chair massages along with some aromatherapy and meditation from a stress-relief therapist.  We were like noodles.  Who does this?  What haven’t they thought of…

The demons of hospice live in my head – the voices that come at me each morning I awake grabbing at my cell phone to see if I’ve slept through “the” call – or is my ringer turned off?  – or is my phone not charged?…only to find there were no calls, no news, no changes to report.  A heart still beating at 180 beats a minute, a blood pressure that has dropped lower than 80/50, rapid breathing…then apnea…then rapid…then apnea.  But we are still in the game…  

The voices that echo in the stillness of the night wondering what if I’d never called hospice in the first place…where would we be…better? worse? over?  The screech that says maybe this is a cruel thing afterall – there must be some reason he’s not gone – is he mad at me afterall for having moved him out of the house?  Is there someone he wants to talk to that never showed up?  The whisper that says I must have imagined the severity of his symptoms and put wheels in motion that can’t be stopped.

Then my insanity is gone – like a brain burp.  I focus once again on the bingo card of life and grapple with the harsh reality that our number has yet to be called and I can’t fault the “Caller” for how the numbers come out of the tumble cage – hand picked and carefully read. No mistakes, no re-do’s.

Maybe this long game has been good for us all – a slow adjustment to learning to play the game without Billy right here rather than a  more sudden exit that would have left us breathless and reeling.  This is the marathon bingo – the triatholon event of the sport.  I should have known Billy is a world class competitor.

The clapping monkey is poised ready to swing into action the minute our number is called and our bingo card is complete.  Go monkey go!

you can’t get there from here

23 08 2008

 I remember being quite young and feeling like a trip was taking too long or that the roads didn’t look familiar and I’d start to whine thinking we were lost…and he’d play along knowing full well where we were and how to get to where he was headed.  He could not be accused any form of road rage either – but he was probably the cause of some rage behind many a shaken fist.   He meandered…poked…Sunday driver on steroids…speed limit or under – you get the picture.  But he was an excellent driver and because he logged hundreds of hours a month in his NIPSCO vehicle – only his left arm at just above the elbow at the T-shirt sleeve line was perpetually tan.

 He knew nothing of the internet or relying on some androgynous voice telling him to “turn left in 500 feet…”  I never remember seeing him take out a map – he just knew.  I learned I could always trust my dad’s internal compass even in a raging blizzard.  But there would be those occasions when someone would ask him for directions and his first answer was always, “You can’t get there from here…”  And he was usually right…it is one thing to get somewhere as the crow flies and then there was Billy’s way.

 I learned that there are many ways to get to the same destination.  Some might be fans of going miles out of their way to get to the limited access highways when Billy knew full well that there were perfectly driveable two lane highways that  would eventually get him to where he was going.  “What’s the big hurry…”

After he was hospitalized last spring with a serious illness, the committee was in residence to help with rehabilitative care and we’d been toying with the decision.  Someone grabbed his keys to use his car and was met by a horrible surprise.  A special kind of treasure hunt revealed that he had taken one of those urinal cleaner cakes – deodorant things – and put it under the driver’s seat as a “freshener”.  Wow…that pushed the NO vote forward…

And in all of the adventures of the last couple of years I would have to say that taking his keys away was hands down the hardest, lowest, most rotten thing we could have done.  His voice would crack with emotion anytime he told people that we wouldn’t let him drive any more. And it’s not like he’d forgotten what we were doing to him as  the most recent time he mentioned that we wouldn’t let him drive anymore was just within the last month and a half.  To this day I’m not sure how I feel about that particular decision.  But after losing his keys while in a store we felt like we needed to take definitive action.  Yeah, we felt “safer” but he felt miserable, bored, useless and punished.  

He loved his car – it meant independence and freedom.  He’d go to garage sales or resale shops, the dollar store or grocery store, church or post office and a million places in between.  Always comin’ and goin’ – my mom would never know half the time where he was or when he was coming home.  Often he’d drop a few dimes in a pay phone from the grocery store before heading home to ask if there was anything she needed from the store. 

So what goes ’round comes ’round…we cannot understand how he is still hanging around.  His body cannot take much more – it just can’t.  We feel that we’ve been in this space for much longer than a ten days…this feeling of imminence.  But he’s back in the driver’s seat calling the shots.  He is behind the wheel and he’s gonna backroad it the whole way home takin’ his sweet time.  Just putzing…

a birthday for billy

22 08 2008

When the committee began talking about things that might be important for us to put our hands on in these last days – one of the biggies was my dad’s Bible. There is book shelf with a full 36″ of Bibles of all sorts, sizes, colors and styles…but not THE Bible. The one we were all thinking about was the one that we grew up seeing him carry to church. We all knew what it looked like, smelled like, felt like but it wasn’t to be found. But those deemed by the fates to be purveyors of trinkets REALLY know how to look. I walked to the shelf this morning and within less than 5 minutes I found where it was stashed.

In his distinctive block print – his name…William E (only) McNiece. Do you know what E (only) means? It is just an ‘E’…no dot behind it because it is not short for anything…just plain old ‘E’.When he would sign important papers he’d write the “E (only)” so there was no mistake. Does that E stand for everything, everlovin’, even-tempered, even-keeled or every-man…just an E. What is it in our human nature that doesn’t GET simplicity…the simpler something is – the more explanation it requires…”Your middle initial?”…”E – but just E – E only – it’s not short for anything…it’s just an E.”

Carefully I bend back the fragile sheet – this was a gift from his fiancee who was to become his bride eleven short weeks later on the day after her 21st birthday. They’d met during the Holiday season of 1945 at Christmas caroling party…and somehow his hand found hers and both were snuggled away from the freezing temps in the warm pocket of his Navy issue pea coat. He was in the process of being honorably discharged after his three plus years of service in the Asian Pacific Theater – his discharge would be official by the end of the first week of the new year.

“You should have seen him when he was courting,” she reminiced.  They dated about a year – beach parties with friends, church events – their relationship progressed and she received her diamond engagement ring on the evening of July 3rd.  The 4th was celebrated by going to a parade then into Wrigley Field for a double header Cubs against the St. Louis Cardinals.  I remember her saying that she spent the whole time just staring at the sparkles on her finger.  

Sixty years of marriage.  A household that was marked by love – gentleness – quiet strength. The sundial that stands in their front yard – a great reminder of what it takes to stick to the business of making 60 years work or 6 months for that matter.  Sundials don’t work unless their starting point is true north…and I think they figured which way was their north.

my shekhinah

21 08 2008

By 5 a.m. she was up and an hour and half later, showered, dressed and breakfasted, she was ready to be back at Hospice with my dad. Aside from her desire to get there sooner than later- it also gave me a chance for the changing of the guard allowing my brother to go back to mom’s house and get some sleep, eat something decent and chill a bit before doing it all again tonight. Billy had a dose of morphine soon after we’d arrived – but he was awake enough to give “knuckles” to my mom when she reached for his hand. The nurse thought he’d been plagued a long time with arthritis in his hands because they looked so stiff and swollen…”no,” I told her – “that’s new”…more and more edema in his extremities. Slowly the fluids will continue to back up in his system. No more meds to help rid the body of what the heart can’t take care of…the pump is just too weak.

Sticking to my guns of the lipstick threat of yesterday -when my phone vibrated- I stepped outside to have the conversation. All reports of the last 12 hours given…everyone was informed. After a few minutes of sitting in the warmth of the morning sun with the faintest tinge of crispness in the air, I realized that summer is waning – but I’m still in Indiana. It was time to go back inside. As I got up from strattling a pretty fountain with no water in it – one foot in and one foot out – I lifted my head to see the shekinah glory…hovering right above the entrance to hospice. Well of course, it’s there – I’ve been feeling it all along.

Just the tiniest residual of Sunday School imagination made this come true but my rational mind says this is actually a contrail, vapor trail or jet trail whatever it’s called…from one of the gazillion jets a day coming to or from O’Hare that has part of its trajectory over this part of the state. But I didn’t have to see it, it didn’t have to be right over the entrance…but it was – my shekhinah glory…just for me.

Shekhinah means to settle, inhabit or dwell. And just when I need things to mean what I want them to – I turn to WIKIPEDIA: “The Shekhinah is held by some to represent the feminine attributes of the presence of God (shekhinah being a feminine word in Hebrew), based especially on readings of the Talmud.[1} And I needed it today – when I can’t figure out why this is taking so long, when I’m too tired to be gracious, when I could sleep 20 hours, get up and sleep some more. But shekhinah is here – hovering – knowing what’s what – in charge. My shekhinah.

this is my body

20 08 2008

I’ve been holding on to this post since the 21st of July. I’ll give you “pre” event thoughts and give you the “post” event some other time.

07/21/08 – 6 pm EST – Grand Rapids, MI

This is my body…which is broken for you.

Tomorrow at 10 a.m. the pastor is going to my parent’s home to celebrate communion with them. It almost took my breath away when I heard my mom say that…who does that? I’ve never known anyone to do that. It’s my birthday – 53 of them to be exact. I was selfishly guarding the day to myself…wondering if I could put off going down for one more day. Until I heard that.

I feel like I need to be there for that holy moment. How will my dad react? Will he just cry? Will he know it may be the last broken bread and wine he has on this earth? Or will it be marked by a release…his understanding that he’s free to go…all his affairs are in order? Does he understand that this isn’t the treatment that everyone in the church gets? Will it feel like he’s awake during the Last Rights?

This is my body…broken for you.

His body is so broken. His skin is transparent – like parchment paper delicately laid over a skeleton. Too much paper in some spots – and not nearly enough in others. Slowly the years have evaporated from his soul. He seems so tired – so ready to go. Maybe he needs to hear how much we’ll miss him and how sad we are to see him so frail and not enjoying life. I always think I should speak those words on my way out of the house…wondering if it will be the last time I see him…and I can’t bring myself to force the air around my vocal chords. I just say, “see you later mister…I’ll be back in a couple of days”

Even if he leaves before I get back – those words are true. I will see him again – and it will seem like a couple of days. And I’ll be so glad to see him again or hear him whistling. He can barely catch his breath. No whistles here. He’s saving them all so that when he shows up in that place…his brothers and sister will hear him coming. His nephew will know that Uncle Bill has arrived. Two moms and a dad waiting too…one who left him as a motherless child so long ago…only to have her sister step in to care for him and the others. And his dad – who he loving shaved for six years when his own soul was trapped in a motionless frame.

Does the pastor feel it? Does he feel my dad’s spirit withering like a week-old mylar balloon?

On my 53rd birthday – I will be there to celebrate life…a life well lived…a life lived in sacrifice for the ones he loved…a life lived in imitation of the One who’s life was willingly sacrificed for many.

I don’t remember ever taking communion with my dad…he was always off DOING communion – serving others – NOT being served. It’s your turn now Billy.