when the cicada sings and the blue moon rises

25 08 2013

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This is the time of year when the crickets, frogs and cicadas put up such a racket at night that it can be a little annoying. That cacophony buzzed its way deep into the recesses of my brain during the final days of Billy’s life five years ago. I wouldn’t give you a nickel to go back there or to even step back another decade when Best Boy almost died in China at this same time of year. Sure, a month in the hospital here “saved” his life but not without great physical and emotional pain for every single one of us. The incessant whir, click, buzz of the IV pumps became the soundtrack of long nights punctuated by morphine induced night terrors.

Sounds will do that for me – punch holes in the present vortex of life and send me spiraling out of control into a time machine.  On the weekly pilgrimages to the Mrs.’ I will often listen to a channel on SiriusXM that transports me back 40 years and smack dab into high school. I missed the reunion that was celebrated a few weeks back. I had been sick and was headed to an out-of-town family wedding but I wasn’t sure I could have pulled it off anyway due to memory overload.

I never know where I will be or what I will be in the middle of doing when one of my senses will be a gateway to some memory. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Billy at least once or that I don’t see hints of him in the goofy grin on Littles 10-month old face or in the pale hint of blue of his eyes.bnscu

A “worker man” walked by me the other day and if my eyes had been closed, I would have thought it was Billy climbing out from his NIPSCO truck, pockets bulging with booklets, pens, gadgets that had to do with work. A huge key ring jangling its unique jangle. It was the smell that got me. The blend of hot skin from hours of exposure to the sun and a hint of oil, gas and the distinctive sulfur smell added to the odorless natural gas. Fingers that wore their print mazes obvious to the naked eye as the deeply stained grooves could never really get 100 % clean, Billy spent hours a day exposed to the elements as he inspected high pressure meters from one end of the county to another.

But for all ways the dark tunnels of my mind are assaulted by unexpected sights and sounds that scream “something is missing”, I wouldn’t want to re-walk those summer weeks waiting for him to draw his last breath. I’d much rather be here in the journey. I’ve learned so much, laughed so much, cried so many tears, welcomed a new generation, celebrated gorgeous weddings, and weekly rubbed lotion on the parchment covered arms of the Mrs.

It is no surprise to me that life plows ahead. Travel schedules, day care drop off and pick ups, doctors’ appointments…so many calendar pages torn off, crumpled up and thrown away.  Just the stuff of life.  The sun rises and sets.  The moon gets fat and skinny right on schedule.  But once in a Blue Moon,  I get a second reminder,  that some days are special and I need to just stop the crazy and stare into space.  So when the cicadas can’t shut up to save their souls and a big Blue Moon is hanging low in the sky…I’m right back there.





a real page turner

25 08 2009

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From C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle:

And as he spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

You can read more about the events of a year ago here.





on death and dying

29 06 2009

glass1Within the first few years of our adventures in Spain, my in-laws began an outreach to guys who were HIV positive.  It was the early to mid-1980’s and there wasn’t as much information about the whole subject like there is now.  All I knew was that when my kids went to spend the night at Yaya and Yayo’s – they’d be there with a couple of guys with AIDS.

Those “guys” became family and when the time came for one of them in particular, we took Best Boy and Shop Girl up to the hospital to say good-bye.  The nurses were flabbergasted that we had the kids with us – let alone that we were on the AIDS floor.  They were coming to say farewell to an “uncle”.

Somewhere along in that time frame,  Billy had cancer…so did my sister.  Reeling from all that reality, somewhere, somehow I got my hands on a book that has stuck with me all these years later.  Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying was an early work that brought attention to how we process grief.  The Kübler-Ross model showed how the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – are normal responses to dealing with the news of terminal illness and catastrophic loss.

The thing that really stuck with me is that people move through these stages on their own time.  You can’t move someone along – you can’t force them to the next step.  Nor do the steps come in perfect sequence.  One day you can be sent backwards for a matter of days or hours and the next instant be further along in the process.

Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Billy Mays…all names flashed before us on Headline News these days.  But my heart weighs heavier with Best Boy’s friend and business partner dealing with the news that he may or may not have 10 more years as he lives with an inoperable brain tumor.

We are all here – really.  We have no guarantees about the next breath. We just don’t know where our individual timeline drops off the page of life as we know it.  I’m entering into the time of year already when I first started blogging thinking I had more time for fun with Billy.  I look at pictures now – taken about a year ago – and think back to how I had no idea that we’d run out of space so quickly.

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”  (Elizabeth Kübler-Ross)

There have been dark days and I’m sure there will be darker yet to come…sometimes I feel like it’s just a tiny flickering candle behind the frame but a little bit of light is still light.

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Doctor My Eyes

17 04 2009

dsc_00061Yesterday was another one of those bittersweet days.  There is something about going so deeply into someone’s personal belongings that is a little disconcerting.  An empty white plastic container of personal hygiene wipes now filled with about eight different sizes and kinds of plastic bottle caps, an empty (thank GOD) 1 oz. portion cup of maple syrup stolen from his favorite restaurant, and four beautiful shells he probably got from a trip to Florida a dozen years ago.  Once it was all sorted (the shells saved – the rest tossed) it got to me again that here I was erasing the very quirkiness of who he was.

In a dresser drawer I found all of the copies of Stars & Stripes (the military newpaper) he’d saved from when he was visiting us in Spain back in the early 90’s.  There was nothing special about them – we’d get them from friends in the military just for fun…but to him it must have been reminders of coming to see us.

He was a lover of gadgets – every kind of AM/FM transistor radio, gazillions of pocket calculators and multiple pairs binoculars.  Lots and lots of sizes and shapes of binoculars.  Packing up for a Cubs game was never without a pair per person.  In later years they were readily available all over the house for birdwatching.  Today they are all on one place, still in his room – those don’t get tossed into the contractor’s grade black bags I’ve come to love. Yesterday the count was three for the garbage and three for Goodwill.  Woo-Hoo!!

dsc_0044During the search and rescue effort, I stumbled on this set of very unique binocular glasses.  You don’t even have to trouble yourself to hold them up to your eyes…that was Billy – finding a way to make taking the long view just a little easier.

Taking the long view isn’t easy when I spend time each week disassembling his life.  Last weekend when the “grounds crew” from the church were doing their thing – they took care of a biggie.  The Mrs. had been after Billy for YEARS to trim back the horribly overgrown bush from the side of the house.  He wouldn’t hear of it.  To him – it was no eye sore, or wretched inconvenience to mow around…it was his bird sanctuary.  In it hung his hand made (fashioned from things discarded for other uses) bird feeder.

In the last half dozen years the dementia made it harder and harder to address things that at one point in his life we would have been able to reason with him about.  So we let things go – knowing there would come a day that we could take care of things and not upset the apple cart at the same time.

So when she knew people armed with chain saws and safety glasses were at her beck and call, it was one of the things on the Mrs.’ wish list. When all the gear was packed up and all the brush hauled away (the very sight of half ton trucks driving on the lawn would have put him in the ground anyway), I stood at the window and looked at the raw scar on the ground.  I felt so guilty.  I felt like such a traitor.  I had a knot in my throat and I whispered, “I’m sorry Billy”.

During the course of the days I was back in the North I spent a number of nights battling the demons of insomnia as my mind was racing around all the things yet to be done in the battle of the basement.  Not so much the things that can be done with a little bit of elbow grease but the things that are beyond that and may mean some big fixes – again, something that Billy would never let us tackle.  When I get to that point of seeing a mountain – I remember that it helps to just Baby Step…what things can I do that will make me feel better right now…

I had to come up with a solution for the flocks that had just been made homeless.  Poor things – for years they fed there outside that window in that ugly bush – and in a matter of minutes they were left high and dry.  I told the Mrs. I’d get her a shepherd’s hook and we’d put the feeder there.  Then when I was there yesterday – I see in two different spots around the yard are two hooks – I could easily relocate one and not even have to spend the money for a new one.

She had a better idea.  Why not just use the weeping japanese cherry tree outside the kitchen and dining room windows?  She’d see it more often as she stands at the kitchen sink or sits out back.  So before I came home yesterday, I found a little branch where the feeder rested secure.

Just a while ago my cell phone rang and as is the instant reaction of my soul when I see her number on my caller ID and I’m a mere two hours north- my heart turns over once in my chest while I un-tense the muscles constricting my vocal chords – I try to answer like I haven’t a care in the world…

“They’re here!!!  They found it!!!  I was cleaning some windows (groan…how does an 82 year old have the energy for that when I might be lucky to get ours cleaned once a year!!!) and I heard a big fluttering commotion!  They’re all at the feeder!”

What a relief!  I’ll probably sleep like a baby tonight (hopefully not like my kids slept…3 hour stretches).  I’m glad in the long run that we didn’t have to cause Billy any more mental anguish than he was already in – to push for a different view on some things.  I’m also glad to see that the Mrs. isn’t afraid of change.  There really are things that need attention and at least she’s not sitting in a puddle of tears not letting go of things. So I’m gonna keep these binocular glasses close at hand for when I need a long view.





i know what day it is…

25 02 2009

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I miss him like crazy.  I see him when I see hawks, cardinals, nuthatches and woodpeckers.  There are moments that I feel his presence so strongly that it takes my breath away…and times that the tears well up like I’m tapping into a great gusher.  We talk about him almost everyday we are together.  He was quite a guy and lucky me being his kid.

I’m not sure how you want to do the next part.  I can’t embed the video so I’ve chosen to open another browser window so as I write the music is playing in the background.  If you’re at work – you need to push your chair back, stand up and push play.  We are celebrating Billy’s promotion exactly six months ago today.  And we’re gonna dance to a song that reminds us of him.

If you missed the original post it’s here.





this again?

17 02 2009

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I’ll be the first to admit that I am often stuck in a rut when in comes to creative meals but seriously?  I know…one is the flavor of the day…and the other is an entrée but just seeing them together this way made me laugh.

Billy was a MickeyD’s kinda guy but she’s stepped it up to Culver’s.  Yes, you can tell me how bad it is for her and how she shouldn’t eat one a week – but at 82…if she wants a single deluxe…I get her a single deluxe basket with onion rings, by the way!

It was another daytrip for me – squeezing in my job as a pharmacist, supervisor of water softener salt, garbage man, accountant and grocery shopper- into just a few hours. Another task came my way unexpectedly which delayed my return trip north by a number of hours.

A week ago she had a call from a friend asking about the experience with hospice. Ruth Ann’s husband’s time at the hospital had come to an end and hospice had been suggested. The Mrs. felt good about being able to just share her perspectives on the subject.  

A couple of different times during the past week, she got in her car and drove over to the hospice center see her friend but missed her each time.  I was proud – the courage it must take to re-enter the space where she’d just said good-bye to her life partner of 60 years-to walk beside another facing the same situation. Ruth Ann’s time there with her husband only lasted a week and he died on Valentine’s Day.

So, when I walked into the house yesterday at around 11 a.m. the Mrs. was all dressed and ready to go to the viewing.  She’d mixed up the times and it wasn’t until late afternoon in a neighboring city about 15 miles away.  Anytime I think about her driving more than the 3 miles, in town-to church, I get nervous.  I just have to deep breathe and remember that I’ve lived through this before with young teen drivers a dozen years ago and can do it again. But if I can save myself one ounce of worry by taking the trip with her, I will.

The hours until the viewing were passed with lunch and my buzzing through my list of things to check on.  We got in the car and I was at her mercy to direct me to the funeral home.  She had no doubt how to get there. One of the good things is that Billy taught her to back road.  If there is a county road that goes in the same direction…it is always the preferred route.  That was some comfort knowing that she was going to be driving this route again in a few days for another outing on her busy social calendar.

She’s still sharp enough to know her way around and her directions were impeccable. I let her off at the front door, helped her inside then sat out in a parking lot watching couples in their 70’s and 80’s tetter in – along with lots of single elderly women.  I waited almost an hour before sneaking in to make sure she’d not passed out somewhere.  There she was – sitting with her famous “Lunch Bunch”…all high school friends that try to get together once a month for a gathering.  She was saddened to learn that since Billy’s death, two or three of her friends have also lost their husbands.  It’s a new club…they may all be widowed…or soon to be.  Ruth Ann – the latest inductee.

In the twenty minute ride back to her house, she told me about six different times that two or three of her friends had been widowed since Billy’s death.  I just listened and acknowledged each declaration as if it had been the first.  I knew her brain was on overload.  Then she launched into memories of Billy’s funeral – she doesn’t remember much save staring into the stoic yet tear-stained faces of her grandsons as they stood behind the flag draped coffin. And she remembers being “tickled pink” that her grandkids dragged her outside for a group picture that she cherishes with all her heart.

Our little adventure was over.  I got her back inside and settled for the night before my own return trip north as the sun was hanging low in the sky.  It had been great little detour.  More time to process.  More time to talk.  One less outing that I’ll fret over her taking the car out alone.

This week she’ll be taking those keys in her hand alot.  Today is the funeral, then she’ll skip the burial to head off to a luncheon for the seniors at church. On Thursday, she’ll drive the route we did over the country road another 15 miles to where she’ll meet one of her Lunch Bunch ladies.  They’ll carpool (with the other one driving) to a restaurant where they’ll meet up with the others. 

I’ll try and not stare at the clock all day…waiting for her call late in the afternoon and breathe a sigh of relief that she’s home safe and sound.  She’ll tell me that two or three of the ladies have lost their husbands since Billy died and I’ll act as if it is the first time I’m hearing the news.





Cold hands – Warm heart at -16º

16 01 2009

img_38082Seven years earlier her mother had died and it forced a move to a new life in a new state, new school, new city.  The day after she turned 21 her daddy walked her down the aisle.  Those were the days when the entire congregation would show up to see two of their own wed and there was no shame in hanging over the balcony to see the bride in her gray outfit made by a seamstress. 

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Her brother, his brother – her two friends; one in burgundy and the other in teal, both cut from the same pattern as the bride’s.  A simple reception in the church basement – post-war, no one expected more.

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The woman next to her dad is a stand-in to balance the photo…I think she was the wife of the Pastor.  

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Off to Chicago for a night in the Stevens (now the Chicago Hilton and Towers).  Sixty years that love lasted. They weren’t perfect people…but  it was a choice they made day after day – moment after moment.  And together they were – right up till the end of Billy’s days.  

Why love if losing hurts so much?

We love to know that we are not alone.  

                                                                     C.S. Lewis


I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long.

If we’re in each others dreams, we can be together all the time.

                                                        Hobbes of Calvin and Hobbes





we wish you many happy returns…

15 01 2009

img_3814Right now it is -11º.   Add to that 11 mph winds and it feels like -31º.  That is the kind of cold where they tell you not to go out unless absolutely necessary. I hesitated to even attempt to make the trek today. Every county along the Lake (and that makes up about 75% of the trip) had lake effect snows slated to receive about seven inches.  I decided to just take it very easy on those snow covered slick roads and the normal two hour trip took an extra hour. I never even told her I was coming because that would just be stupid.   An important lesson – don’t tell toddlers or old people what you MIGHT be doing…

But I’m here and it’s her 82nd birthday and tomorrow would have been their 61st wedding anniversary.  These aren’t dates that she should be alone.  At least not for the first time around.  And after tomorrow…we will have passed all the important dates just five months after Billy left us.  

Billy’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, her birthday followed the next day by their anniversary…the first ones “alone” are now history. Mile markers on the path whether it is a path we would have chosen or not.  Sort of like the candles on a cake – whether we like how many are there or not – each stands for a year’s worth of life lessons that are there for us to celebrate.

So after I sang to her – I launched right into:

We wish you many happy returns on this the day of your birth,

 may sunshine and gladness be given, 

may God in his mercy prepare you on earth

for a beautiful birthday in heaven. 

“and I’ll be with Bill!”, she added through a teary smile.





On the good ship lollipop

9 01 2009

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On the good ship lollipop 
Its a night trip into bed you hop 
And dream away 
On the good ship lollipop

 

Yesterday was another visit to the doctor’s office.  It’ll probably take another two dozen times before I will NOT be overwhelmed with memories of the three of us going…now that we are just two.

Because he takes such good notes, the doctor remembered that she was “due” for another round of the MMSE (mini-mental state exam).  Now that a few more months post-funeral are under the belt, we needed to see where we were at.

The question round began.  The year came off without a hitch.  The month…skipped to February.  Day of the week was answered with a question in the voice then affirmed.  The date went, “the 8th!”, “no, maybe the 9th…no wait…”, “8th?”, “well…maybe, no…”, “yes, the 8th I think”  

“So is 8th your answer?”  “Ummm, yes…no…8th?..yes…8th!”

Some things that were wrong last time – were on the money this time around. Following the verbal directions wasn’t a problem.  Then the kicker…”Remember these three words: pencil, cat and truck.”  She repeated them.

On to the next thing – write out a sentence.  He asked politely that she not tell him where to go as someone last week had followed instructions and in fact had written a sentence reading, “Dr. D, go to hell!”  She wrote her sentence and he asked for those three words.

“What three words?”  “Those three words that you repeated.”  “I don’t know what three words you’re talking about…can you give me a hint?”   “No.” “Hummm, I don’t know.”  He said them aloud and she just shook her head like he was speaking Urdu.

On with the other tasks – spelling world backwards (skipped a letter, self-corrected, repeated with affirmation), copying a drawing, following written instructions to close her eyes, naming objects he pointed out (“well, that’s a telephone – that’s a pen,” chirped out with a hint of “you fool” in her voice).

All told – we are right where we were a few months ago.  Six shy of where I wish we could be.  We need to change up some blood pressure meds next week. What she’s been on since October isn’t really doing the trick.  Her pulse is low.  She cried a bit talking about their anniversary coming up next week (even tho in trying to remember what month we were in – she’d forgotten that she’d not yet celebrated her birthday/anniversary).

On the way out, I stopped to make her next appointment for early spring when we will start on what we call “memory meds”.  I can’t let the dreaded words out of my mouth yet…we still have Billy war-wounds that are a tad raw.

I laughed as I helped myself to a big huge cherry sucker in Billy’s honor…he would have grabbed a handful and the nurses would have just snickered. There is still a stash at the house in case any “little ones” come by.

On the gray two hour drive home, with that taste reminiscent of Luden’s Cherry Cough drops in my mouth…I tried NOT to feel like I was headed into a storm though the clouds were low and pregnant.  After all, we ended up on the “easy” scale with Billy.  He never wandered, never had to be fed, never forgot to call me “the Boss”…his ticker just quit first.

So just like Shirley’s sweet little voice reminding us that a good dose of dreaming can help us out…I took my time with that lollipop and never bit down on it.  I need to just take it for what it is ‘coz I don’t know what’s next.

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wee small

5 12 2008

img_3806Not to worry.  I’m not spying on my neighbors, it’s just that this vision represents the breaking of dawn.  Like I just got done boasting about a post or so ago, I have been able to enjoy  a new dimension of sleep that I’ve not enjoyed much in the last few years.

When I was time-card-punching for a living, I’d have to be downtown sitting at my desk after parking 5 blocks away, changing into my uniform and finding my way to the “front of the house” (that’s hotel speak for anyone who has direct dealing with the public) before 7 a.m.  There was a season (I refuse to say how long that was…it could have been years, it could have been once!) that I’d be at the YMCA waiting as they unlocked the doors at 5 a.m. to get a work out in, run home to shower and change and still open the Business Center by 7.  What was I thinking???

Needless to say, that’s not my life in a lot of ways anymore.  The YMCA part is being seriously reconsidered – especially in the winter when lack of sunshine puts in peril my very existence.  The least I could do is to get the endorphins flowing.

There are times that the old pattern sneaks back in (or if there is a full moon and I can never sleep anyway) that I’ll be the first one up, tend to the animals (this isn’t unusual around 4 a.m.) make myself a stiff cafe con leche (latte to those of you who only learned “coffee” speak from Starbucks), and go back to bed for how ever many hours I can take.

I did that this morning and now I’m deeply disturbed.  My most vivid dreams happen in that after-a-night’s-sleep-have-coffee-go-back-to-bed space.  For the first time since Billy’s departure – I dreamt that I walked into their kitchen and there he was at the table as fit as a fiddle with a huge smile on his face, loving every minute of the surprise.  I asked him what he was doing and he said he’d come to get her.

Then there was more.  It didn’t include him but it was like flying around with the ghost of Christmas Past to see her go through a disturbing journey to the end.  It’s still too early to call her but Lord knows I will as soon as I’m sure she has her hearing aids in and cranked up.  

So I’m a tad haunted today.  Regardless of the circumstances, it was good to see him.  Time to go make my bed.