Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

O, this solemn, Holy day.

Church tonight, and then I signed up to sit in vigil in the Altar of Repose (conjures images of chaises lounges and fainting sofas, right?) from Midnight until one in the morning. On Sunday, my father's obituary, crafted by Yours Truly, will appear in the local paper.

To wit:

Howard Francis Kramer passed away on March 6, 2008. He was 82.

He was the husband of Jane (Kavetski) of Philadelphia; Robina (Cunningham) of Fife, Scotland; and Kathleen (Tedesco) of Lansdale. His three wives preceded him in death. Howard was born in Philadelphia, son of Heber and Sara (Shomo) Kramer. For 60 years, he lived in Point Pleasant.

He attended Olney High School in Philadelphia and National Farm School (now Delaware Valley College), was a World War II-era veteran, and retired after 29 years of service with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, spending most of that time as an inspector with the Bureau of Foods and Chemistry. Howard was a member and trustee of the Retired Public Employees of PA AFSCME Chapter 13, formerly a member of the recently disbanded Point Pleasant Senior Citizens, served as an election official and Democratic Committeeman of Plumstead Township, and has been a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church for over 60 years.

Howard Kramer is survived by his son David and David's wife Nancy of Venice, Florida; and by his son Drew of Point Pleasant; and by his stepson Maurod Hammoutene of Stockton, New Jersey, the husband of his deceased daughter, Kathleen.

Solemn Eucharist will be celebrated at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Doylestown on Saturday, March 29 at 11:00 A.M. A reception will follow in Paxson Hall. Interment will be private at the convenience of the family.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization working to raise public awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of severely injured service men and women, to help severely injured service members to aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs. Donations may be mailed to: Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758517, Topeka, KS 66675-8517. If you have any questions, please contact them at

Slowly but surely I'm making progress. I just about have the dumpster filled, no mean feat as the thing is as big as a swimming pool. And Way Hot Man has been a huge help, taking off my hands the Enormous Blue Sofa, the most useable of the three Lay-Z-Boy recliners, the coffee table, and the highboy chest of drawers, which now grace the South Philadelphia home of a friend of Way Hot Man who is disabled and lives alone.

And yesterday, I dealt with the guns.

Y'see, my father had a few rifles from when he would go hunting as a young man. When my brother was up here, one night while talking to his wife, he reached under the bed he was lying on and discovered all the ammo for the rifles. This elicited a Major Freak Out from my brother, who, it seems, is made terrifically uncomfortable by guns. I promised him I'd take care of them before his return.

The ammunition was dealt with easily enough: I took it to the local constabulary (a.k.a. the Plumstead Township Police Department). Then I took the guns to a local dealer, Quinby's Gun Shop.

I wasn't quite prepared for that.

I imagined it would be staffed by salt-of-the-earth hardworking guy next door types, basically an amalgam of guys that I know who hunt. Hunting, basically, is taking a walk in the woods with a dog, and occasionally, you manage to shoot a deer and you have some good venison to eat upon your return. I have no problem with that. In fact, three of those elements--the dog, the walk in the woods, good things to eat--I'm pretty enthusiastic about.

But no.

When you were growing up, did you know any kids who were snake nerds? In their perpetually darkened bedrooms, the only source of light would be the faint purple glow coming from a few aquariums, and in those aquariums would be coiled snakes. Remember how there was something vaguely creepy about snake nerd kids? Probably this was largely attributable to the fact that they routinely took small, furry mammals with large pleading eyes and dropped them into the aquariums and watched as the small, furry mammals with large pleading eyes were devoured by cold-blooded reptiles.

So did you ever wonder what happened to snake nerd kids when they grew up? I mean, they couldn't all become serial killers, right?

Yesterday, I found out.

Snake nerds grow up to become gun nerds.

Or at least some of them do.

Like, the more socially maladapted ones.

Oh. My. God.

Here's a sampling of overheard repartee amongst the gun nerds at Quinby's Gun Shop...

"That would be a nice gun to go hunting for Democrats with."

"So he's a muslim. Why don' he jus' come out and say he's a muslim? Cuz with that name, that automatically means you're a muslim."

"Yeah. And his father was from Africa and his mother was a white woman, and we all know what that's about."

"Democrats want to make them there guns illegal. They call them 'sniper rifles.'"

"I keep hoping ev'er' day that they get a big earthquake in California and that whole comm-u-nist state would drop into the goddamn ocean. And New Jersey, too."

"So you and the family got plans for Waco Day?"

My nerves were set on edge when I walked into the place, and one of the gun nerds was checking out the scope alignment with a high-powered rifle (and yes, layman that I am, I would call that a 'sniper rifle'), and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light inside, I perceived that it was pretty much trained right at my heart.

The conversation didn't do much to put me at ease. I had this Imp of the Perverse inspiration to gently clear my throat and announce in a tremulous falsetto with stentorian tones, "Gentlemen, I'll have you know that I am a Democrat and and homosexual." Happily, I successfully fought this impulse.

Oh. And all these guys, despite whatever lethal-looking handguns or sniper rifles they were looking at were all armed to the fucking teeth with side arms. One bloated old toad had two enormous six shooters in a leather belt with holsters, worn like he was spending the day hunting down Pancho Villa.

Do the carry laws in Pennsylvania really allow for that? Or do they just get all gussied up and ready for a quick draw contest when they make their special daily trip to Quinby's Gun Shop? Oh. And since I was there at about two-thirty on a Thursday afternoon, I guess we can assume that these guys don't do much in the way of working for a living but instead have no problems with suckling at the teats of the god-forsaken liberal welfare state?

The guy I was dealing with offered me $170 for my father's rifles and I took the money and ran.

To unwind, I had to go home and do some major Dusting and Cleaning for the balance of the afternoon.

That night was church (duh!). Maundy Thursday services.

Oh man.

How are people not episcopalian? How do people manage to live lives of meaning and significance without once a year on the Thursday before Easter participating in one of the most beautiful and significant sacred rites ever devised by humanity?

Here's the order of things. First, there's the Maundy, the washing of the feet. It's particularly poignant when such a simple, humble human activity is elevated to the Sublime. And then Holy Communion, which goes off as usual, only we're all reminded by the scripture reading that this is a celebration of the night that got the whole Holy Communion ball rolling. And then things really get going. They take all of the left over consecrated host down to the wee little chapel. After we in the congregation get done singing that beautiful mournful hymn, we're all just kind of standing around, not quite sure what to do with ourselves. Especially since there were no clear directions given in the service leaflet along the lines of "The People Stand" or "The Congregation, the Celebrant, and the Altar Party Kneel." Since I'm squarely in the True Presence Camp, I decided to take a seat, and a few others followed suit once the host was out of there. So then, the altar party comes back, wearing only black cassocks, and they proceed to strip the altar. It makes me tremble watching it. The message there is that God is dead. Love does not conquer death, but all human endeavor and aspiration ends in the grave. There is no Truth. There is no light to lighten our darkness. We are insignificant little beings rutting around in the mire for a cosmically brief time before everything is extinguished by a colliding comet or our own blood-thirsty warring ways. Once everything is stripped and locked away, the lights come on and we all just get up and leave.

So this year, for me, Maundy Thursday was particularly moving. During the Maundy, I thought of myself just two weeks ago, changing my poor dad's diaper, rubbing his feet and his legs down with lotion.

And the stripping of the altar.


Oh yeah.

The Baron, although he hasn't come right out and said it, accuses me of working tirelessly to efface all traces of my father from this house, loading up that swimming-pool-sized dumpster with not just "his things," but with my memories of him. Committing to the rubbish all traces of evidence of my father's time on earth.

And, I will admit that there's some truth there.

But not entirely.

Yes, definitely, everything that's cheap and soiled and old and worn out and stupid--and that is pretty much everything--I want to get out of this house and out of my life immediately. The flotsam left in the wake of hospice care was the first to go. I will not remember my father by some collection of geegaws blackened by age and decrepitude. Only by a few select things, things that are pure and good and beautiful. Things that suggest to me those aspects of my father that I loved.

If it were the case--and it's not, but if it were--that there was nothing that my father left behind that met these high standards, then all of it would go the way of all flesh, back to dust. And instead, I'd have only pure, clear memories of that wonderful, kind man, who never let me forget for a minute of my entire time on earth that he loved me.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008



I get up--usually around Eight--and have my protein drink. (Speaking of which, what the hell??? There seems to be some kind of a blight right now with Naked Juice's Protein. All of the places that I usually find it--some local 7-11's, Giant supermarket--all seem to be out of it. Really annoying. ) Then I start in on the work. I have my father's bedroom pretty much sorted. Now I've started in on his smoking room. That is by far the greater undertaking. It is easier going in one respect: just about everything in there can go right into the dumpster. The formerly white walls in that room are a shade of ochre. Him sitting back there and smoking seven or eight cigars a day has pretty much taken it's toll. Tonight, I hauled about twelve bags of Time magazines out to the curb for recycling.

I picked up some paint chips the other day. Cellodon greens and reddish oranges. I'll do my best to avoid the oranges since I'd just have to repaint when I sell the Ol' Homestead, but I make no promises there.

I generally take a break in the afternoon and make phone calls and deal with other paperaserie associated with the estate. Then a few more hours of work. Then a nice, long relaxing shower. The past couple of night's, feeling the need for some human interaction, I head into Doylestown and head to Starbucks, losing myself in The Reformation by Diarmaid McCollough, thinking about nought but the contending takes on the Eucharist and the political machinations of the Schmalkaldic league. Then I head back home, where Faithful Companion is eagerly awaiting my arrival.


Simple enough, right?


Only I'm getting pretty damn tired of this.

I just want it all to be over.

My sadness over the loss of my father has sort of resolved itself into a wistfulness. Every now and then, something will make me think of him, like tonight at the supermarket when I passed a pile of Tastycakes on sale. (Tastycakes were what my father insisted on having for lunch everyday. One of my preoccupations has been to make sure he always had a good supply set in.)

"Oh, Dad..."

There's sorrow there, but it's a penumbra around pleasant memories of the man he was.

So now, I want to get away from here. Not for good, I'll come back. I want to get on a plane and go somewhere. Somewhere with a hot tub. I want the weather to be warmer, to rush the season. I want to have a plan. I want spend time with friends. I want to meet new people. I want to go on a Gay Cruise.

When that thought crossed my mind, that's when I knew to put on the brakes.

Emphatically, I do Not want to go on a Gay Cruise.

So here's what I'm going to do: nothing.

That is to say, nothing different than what I have been doing. Hang in there, stick it out, be patient, take care of business.

Every thing will work out okay.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Play Your Strengths

Although I may be ineptly dealing with the grief I feel in the wake of my father's death, and although I haven't quite been flawless with this whole Executor thing (Still have to call the farflung relatives, although now what's holding me up is coming up with an excuse for being a week late with that; finally got around to letting the State Pension Fund know of my father's demise), there's one thing that I do know how to do and do well: throw a party.

My father's funeral will be held on Saturday, March 29th (we Episcopalians don't do the funeral thing during Holy Week), and it will rawk. My brother and I are taking pains to pick out the hymns and the scripture readings. (Question for Mary O and kit: there's a hymn which I recall singing often at St. Lukes's. If it had a title, it would be "Songs of Praise." In the hymn, various aspects of the life of a christian are described, and it's pointed out that "Songs of Praise" will ring out at each event, as when we enter into paradise, we'll join the chorus of the Saints singing songs of praise. Or something. Can anyone help with a number in the hymnal there?)

I came up with my great daffodil idea. Y'see, after my father retired, he devoted himself to working on the property. One of his endeavors was to plant thousands and thousands of daffodils. In a few weeks, the ol' homestead will be awash in daffodils. So at his funeral, I'll have pots of daffodils on the altar, and folks attending will be invited to take home a pot, put them in the ground, and have a lasting memorial to Howard Kramer right there in their own backyards.

Nice, huh?

And then there's the reception after the service. It's going to be a Tea. Yes, friends, there will be cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off. There will be scones (and not the oddities sold under that name at Starbucks). There will be tea cakes. My sister-in-law and I will be spending the day before cooking things, and we've enlisted the aid of the Corps Of Older Women Much Esteemed from St. Paul's to help with the preparation and the service.

Oh. And then there's the whole "In lieu of flowers" thing. (Remember, I'll be providing the daffodils, so don't send flowers.) I might have mentioned that when this issue was first broached by the funeral director, he asked if there was some charity that we wanted donations sent to rather than have people sending flowers. My brother and I looked at each other blankly. Then I said, "Knowing my father, he'd want it to say, 'in lieu of flowers, this November, vote Democrat.'" My brother appreciated this, but the funeral director, not so much."

I wanted to strike just the right note here. I didn't want the American Cancer Society or the Red Cross or some such. I wanted it to be a group doing good work that was under-funded and in an area that my father would have approved of, and one which I find compelling, too. The issue that came first to my mind was all of the men and women coming back from Iraq and Afganistan, with wounds both mental and physical. I hunted around, and put in a call to my congressman, who has been active in that area, and I think I've come up with a winner: Check out the Wounded Warrior Project.


Oh. And my father's cigars. Tragically, he smoked candellas, and I smoke maduro. So I had over two cases (eight boxes per case) of cigars that I had to deal with. I stopped in to my local cigar place. They agreed to take them, even though they're only machine rolled. The owner and I talked it through. He's going to sell them off one by one for about a dollar each, and there will be a sign encouraging folks to enjoy a cigar and think of Howard Kramer, a devoted cigar smoker, and that a portion of the proceeds will go to support the Wounded Warrior Project.

And, I may get a break ever hereafter on cigars that I purchase at the Classic Cigar Parlor. Here's hoping.

I love it when a plan comes together!

So much to do, so little time.

And now, I am blessed with a deadline: I go back to work at Ho(t)me(n) Depot on March 31st. Which means I have two weeks to make substantial progress.

And I had a thought on getting help to fill up the dumpster: I'll see if I can recruit some of the misbegotten youth of the Starbucks in Doylestown to help me out for $15-an-hour. That should be a huge help to them in getting the money they need to pay for all that marijuana they seem to consume. And I might even place a phone call to none other than Bucky ('member him?) and see if he would be available. Hopefully, it will be unseasonably warm that day and he'll take off his shirt.

But as with everything these days, we will see.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sentimental Fool

My dumpster is here!

The guy just brought it from the local waste management company, backed his truck into the driveway, and dropped it off. There it will sit for the next fourteen days, and all the while I'll be loading it up.

For a minimalist like me, this could only be good news, right? Over the past four-and-a-half years now, I've dreamed of this day. Both my parents were very un-minimalist. Whenever my father took a nap, I'd set my sites on how I could maybe smuggle 73 peanut butter jars my stepmother had squirreled away out to the curb for recycling. And now, I have this huge dumpster, big as a swimming pool, to fill up with crap.

But what is this tugging at my heartstrings?

Uh oh.

This could be bad.

It was one thing to view with jaundiced eye the very La-Z-Boy recliner my father was sitting on--filthy, broken, smelly--and dream of getting rid of it. But it's quite another when that filthy, broken, smelly recliner is all I have left of the man. His physical presence is gone, and all he left behind is clutter.

Suddenly, I'm seeing everything in a new light. I could draw up a long list of why that cheap awful floorlamp should be consigned to the dumpster (it's broken, there's a short in the wire, it's cheap wood and poorly made, I would never be able to sell it, I'm damned sure not keeping it). But in the adjacent column listing reasons to not throw it in the dumpster are three little words: it was his.

I think, perhaps, I'll have to start small and work my way up. Like down in the basement, home to stuff that even my parents would probably admit should have been thrown out but wasn't. And since our basement flooded a couple of years ago, that stuff that should have been thrown out is now water damaged. I'll start with thee easy stuff, the obvious trash (that sounds like a queeny put-down, no? "Oh her? Obvious trash. That's what she is."). And slowly slowly I'll work my way towards those things which probably still bear my father's fingerprints.

I thought this would be easy. But clearly, it's going to be very difficult.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How Am I?

"After a great pain, a formal feeling comes."

And laundry, and meetings with the bank, funeral directors, clergy, and lawyers.

My father named me as executor, and in that capacity, there's a lot to do. The death certificates came in yesterday, and I had to run them all around. And then there's the phone calls: calling distant family to give them the news, calling the utility companies to get things transferred into my name, returning the raft of phone calls that seem to show up on the answering machine every time I leave the house.

My brother, it seems, is a Huge Phone Queen. He kept me on the phone for an hour yesterday as he's now back in Florida.

Mostly, I just want to clean. I've targeted the kitchen first. Yesterday I took care of the countertops, and today I want to empty the cabinets onto the kitchen table, sort through it all, throw some stuff out, wipe the cabinets down inside and out with Murphy's Oil, and put it all back.

I'm going to be making piles. Or rather, make that Piles. There's the Good Will Pile, the Stuff I Might Sell On eBay Pile, the Stuff That Goes In The Dumpster Pile, the Stuff To Try To Get One Of Those Shady Operators That Buy Estate Furniture In To Look At Pile.

I'm on the fence about when to go back to work at Ho(t)me(n) Depot. Next week? After the funeral? And if I should go back part-time or full-time when I do.

There are two things of my father's that I want to keep. One is his desk. It's steel. Right now, it's got this sort of laminate thing to make it look like cherry wood. (It makes it look like a sort of laminate to make it look like cherry wood.) But it occurred to me that I could grind that off, or maybe take it off with a blow-torch, and I'd have this cool looking steel desk like the ones that fetch so much at the Chelsea flea markets. The other thing is my father's comb. It's made of aluminum, and he came by it during his service in the Army Air Corps during World War II. I have a brush that belonged to his father. Burned into the handle of the brush are the words, "Genuine Boar Bristles." At some point in junior high, it became de riguer to carry around a comb in your back pocket at all times. I used to steal my father's aluminum comb for those purposes. "Did you take my comb again? What the hell are you doing taking my comb?" my father would call from the bathroom.

So how am I? Doubtless you'll want to know. Everyone seems to. "How are you?" I'm asked again and again. Usually with tone of voice and inflection to imply that the listener isn't just making a casual answer by way of salutation to which the only appropriate reply is, "Good, and you?"

Unfortunately, I don't always pick up on that, and reply, "Pretty good!" in my usual chipper way. Then, seeing the disappointment in the face of whoever I'm talking to, I have to backtrack and come up with something like, "Well, y'know... I'm holding my own."

And I am.

Beyond that, it gets complicated. I'm relieved that my father's suffering wasn't greater. I'm surprised that this man who seemed to me to be as eternal as the Delaware River is no longer here. I'm haunted by the final image of him in my mind--slack-jawed, his eyes closed, so Not There Anymore. I'm astonished at the money he left behind for my brother and me. If I didn't know how tech savvy my father wasn't, I'd suspect that he was the one behind those scammy emails from the Nigerian Health Minister we've all been receiving. The man was a civil servant. Where did it all come from? And what am I going to do with it? I am tremulous at the prospect of phrases like, "When my father was alive..." popping up in my lexicon. Of this man who has loomed so large for me his whole life now being a cylinder of ash in Doylestown Cemetery. I am betwixt and between, with thoughts crossing my mind like, "I can plant a bunch of ornamental grasses and wildflowers in those low spots in the lawn," then reconsidering since The Plan is to have this place on the market by June. I am full of wonder at the prospect of leaving 4853 Tollgate Road for the second time in my life: What's out there in the wide world? What will I do? Where will I go? What will I find there?

Oh. And I'm increasingly frustrated that I still haven't been able to see the final episode of Project Runway so I still don't know who won and please don't tell me because I'm terrified that I'll overhear something or come by that information before I have the chance to sit there biting my nails up to my elbows while the three finalists stand there on the runway as Heidi, Nina, Michael, and the Special Guest Judge arrive at their decision.

My mind is like a river. These ideas and dispositions and lines of thought come washing down, carried by the current. I'm amazed at the clarity I have. And all with this Zen-like detachment that is terrifically unfamiliar. I'm just letting me happen and not getting in the way. But at the same time, I know this clarity will pass. The world will eventually come flooding back.

Interestingly, I don't have much to say about it. I just am.

I'm doing okay.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Howard Francis Kramer
May 7, 1925 -- March 6, 2008



Talking to the priest at my church to decide when he would come over for the annointing with oil. He asked me, "What's your gut feeling on when it will be?"

"Tonight," I said.

I hadn't thought about the timing before. That's in my dad's hands and in God's hands.

Yesterday afternoon and evening, my father had energy. There was always something he wanted wanted wanted. He was frustrated at not being able to communicate to me what the wanted thing was. Some water. Some ice cream. To put the urinal in place because he had to pee. At one point, after he exasperatedly told me for the fourth time, I got what he was saying: he wanted to go sit in his smoking room and have a cigar.

"Daddy," I said, "Remember you had an operation on your hip? You're still too weak for that."

He sank back.

I realized that what he wanted was for it all to be like it was.

I had to go down to Philadelphia to pick up my brother at the airport last night. A woman from church, who before she retired was a home health aide, agreed to come and sit with my father while I was away. Before I left, he wanted some ice cream, and so I had to leave a little later than planned as I fed him spoonful after spoonful.

When we got back, the house was still and quiet. The woman from church was reading her book, my father was sleeping. He came to a little to greet my brother, but he wasn't as animated as he had been earlier that day.

I slept out here on the sofa, waking a few times when he called out, but each time finding him still apparently sleeping.

This morning, I saw that what he's doing isn't quite sleeping. His glassy eyes stare out under half closed lids. Every now and then, a pause in his breathing.

It's coming soon.

I have a new hobby: laundry. So much laundry to do. Sheets and towels. The hospice nurse showed me a trick: cut the back of a tshirt up to the collar. The collar goes over his head and so won't slip down, and his arms can go through the sleeves. Yesterday, my father's tshirt read, "Vote Democrat!". Today, we're loving the Phillies.

But thank God for laundry. Giving me something to do. Although today there's been plenty. Closing down my father's safe deposit box at the bank, calling the funeral home, getting the priest out here. But of those, only laundry doesn't require me offering the explanation, "My father is dying."

I keep waiting for those damn telemarketers to call. All of those charities I've never heard of. "Hi! I'm calling from the Pennsylvania Police Captain's Association Children's Fund. Is Howard Kramer there?"

I'm looking forward to telling them the news: "Mr. Kramer can't come to the phone right now because he's dying."

That's mean. That's awful. Those poor people are just doing their jobs. And I don't know for sure that their jobs entail preying on the elderly. Some of those alleged charities might actually do good work.

While changing my father's diaper this morning--it's probably a fairly small group of people on the planet who could say or write that statement, huh?--I remembered the euphemism we used for my stepmother: the "pad." Everyone's heart sinks with the news that "Oh guess what! You're wearing a diaper!". So my stepmother's hospice nurses referred to it as "the pad," as in, "I'll need to change your pad now." So when my father makes his noise, this sort of growl, and his fingers sort of claw at his crotch, I reassure him saying, "That's fine, Daddy. Just let it come. I'll just change the pad and clean you up." Lucky for me, nine times out of ten it's a false alarm.

Oh my poor Daddy.

Oh my poor Daddy.

I feel like Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, on Trefalmador, becoming unstuck in time. Because I'm remembering, vividly, not only experiences with my father, but also I'm catching glimpses of the future, what it will be like for me to be in the world and not having him there. His birthday, May 7th, rolling around in the calendar, year after year. With all of the stories my father told me, I'm sure there are so many more that he hasn't. So much more locked inside there. A man who, in some respects, I'll never know.

But I sure know this: my father has always loved me. Always always always. With a love that hurt sometimes.

Oh my poor Daddy.

This gurgle has sort of started now. I was expecting this. I moved him onto his side, looking out the big window facing the back yard. Yesterday, I pointed out the spikes of daffodils coming up. Years ago, my father planted daffodils all over the property. In a few weeks, every where you look will be daffodils. Even off in the woods are a few clumps.

I'm talking to him now. In a way I've never spoken to him. Comforting him, telling him it's alright.

Over the past four-and-a-half years, even though I've been in a parental role, I haven't challenged my father, I haven't pressed him, I haven't insisted. Part of me has needed to cling to him still being my father. So if he never brought it up, we didn't talk about it.

But now I'm letting go of that. Telling him things. Things it would make him shy to hear. About how much I love him. How I've always looked up to him, how his approval of me has always been the pearl I sought.

It won't be long now.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Phone Call From Jen The Discharge Nurse!

Jen: So there's a medication to ease his breathing that he needs to take every four hours or as needed through a nebulizer. Do you have a nebulizer?

Me: Uh... No. I don't happen to have one of those.

Jen (sounding surprised): You don't have a nebulizer?

Me (trying to be helpful): Toaster oven? Welding machine? Screw gun? Bread machine?

Jen: We'll see about getting you a nebulizer.

The River

First stop yesterday morning was work so I could sign the paperwork for a Family Medical Emergency Leave of Absence. That was swift and easy. Then off to the rehab where I had to sign the admission releases for my father who never got an opportunity to do that. Then off to work.

That was sure weird.

All the ordinary furniture of a standard workday--making sure the shelves were stocked, advising customers about toilets and cabinetry, taking abandoned carts to the front--except that I wouldn't be doing it tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. Instead, I'd be entering an unknown world of caring for my father at home.

In my mind's eye, I see myself on the bank of a river, my eyes focused on the far shore. Slowly I wade in, my feet feeling my way across the stones at the bottom, the water getting deeper and deeper, ankles to knees to hips. Preparing myself to make the swim through the currents to the other side. I know what the other side is like. But it's the crossing that's daunting.

I called the hospice program to let them know about my leave of absence and they said, "Great! I'll make arrangements for the equipment to be delivered tomorrow morning and for your father to be discharged and transported home!"

That splash you just heard was me making the initial dive. My clean, athletic stroke is taking me out of the shallows and into the deeper water.

After work last night, I headed to the hospital to visit my father there for the final time. Again I had the jarring experience of walking into my father's room and finding him not there. He had been moved down the hall, which I thought was weird, but then I understood when I walked in: he had a single room, all to himself. I assume they did this because it would be disconcerting to his roommate who was in there recovering from something to have a man in the next bed who might slip away at any minute. Especially when my father told his roommate that he was in because he fell and broke his hip.

But there was my father. Awfully animated. And talky.

Although, at this point, because his breath is so shallow and he's too weak to move his mouth to make words, he's difficult to understand. I caught what I could, but I couldn't get the gist of it. Which seemed not to matter to him. His eyes were fixed facing away from me, up in the corner of the room, as he related what I thought was some story.

Some story. My father's stories. Something of an inside joke in my family. About how the firehouse in Pottsville where he would spend his summers as a boy would raise money by getting a keg of beer from the Yuengling brewery and you would come in and put a dollar on the keg and you could drink all you want although the trick was you didn't know how much beer was left in the keg and you could be paying for suds. And of course, the pumper was horsedrawn, and the harnesses and such for the horses hung from the ceiling, ready to be dropped into place. About how when he got out of the army, his mother asked him to run an errand. His dog Blossom, a Springer Spaniel, went with him. Blossom would run ahead, and run up the stoops of certain houses on the block. My father realized that she was remembering when she used to come along with him on his paper route many years ago, stopping at the houses on his route. About how my mother worked on the congressional campaign of James A. Michener, who sat in our livingroom. About how when he was in Scotland with my stepmother he got a craving for milk. He went in to a little market in the High Street and bought a bottle and chug-a-lugged it right there. The shopkeeper said to him, "Yoo're an american then, Aye?"

All those stories. All ending the same way, with the same punchline: my father's amazement. "Can you believe that?" he'd say.

"Well, yes I can," we'd sometimes reply, "because you've told that story a thousand times."

And now, all those stories will only be in our memories.

I started to cry, stifling it. Steeling myself against it. Not wanting to upset my father.

He asked me to get the nurse so she could put him on the bedpan again. (I know when he's home, my father is going to drive me nuts with the bedpan, which seems to be his latest obsession.) When the nurse came in, I took the opportunity to excuse myself. I found a little lounge down the hall by the elevator, went in and closed the door behind me and let the tears come. Just standing there sobbing. They had a little table for kids with some toys and a few books. And one of the books was called "Are You My Mother?", about a newly-hatched baby bird who goes in search of his mother, asking that question of a dog, a hen, and a cow. I knew the story without even opening it because my father had read it to me with me curled in his lap.

More sobbing.

I composed myself and headed back to my father's room. "False alarm" he reported. Which when he said it sounded like "Fal Halar." I told him that tomorrow, he'd finally be coming home. He started grilling me. What did I do with the mail? What bills had come in? Was I saving the papers for him? Oh his anxious, obsessiveness. Which has driven me apeshit often over the past four-and-a-half years. Now I loved him for it more.

The nurse came in to check on him, and my father asked if he could have some ice cream. She couldn't understand what he was saying, so I translated. "What kind?" she asked.


"I'll see what I can do," she said.

She managed to find some. Only it was strawberry. She started in feeding it to him, spoonful by spoonful. My father would choke and swallow with difficulty, but always nodded his head, indicating he wanted another spoonful.

She turned to me. "Would you mind?"

Not at all.

With me feeding him the ice cream, my father did much better. "Don't think about swallowing it," I said, "Just swirl it around in your mouth with your tongue. It will go down on its own."

I liked the fact that I was doing a better job at feeding my father ice cream than the nurse.

Because that's what I do.

For the past four-and-a-half years anyway, I have fed my father. Bacon and eggs, macraroni and beef, meatloaf and scalloped potatoes, roast chicken, creamed chip beef on toast, brownies, gingersnaps, BLTs, pork and sauer kraut, fish chowder, jumbalaya. Even the fateful Shrove Tuesday pancakes.

So that was yesterday.

I fell asleep watching the results of the March 4th primaries last night, waking up and dragging myself to bed at 4 a.m. I got up this morning at Eight and started in getting the house ready to receive a hospital bed and all the other krankhaus paraphernalia that the hospice people are bringing this morning. No mean feat!

I'm out over my head now, heading across the river to the other side.

Monday, March 03, 2008

End Game

Spoke to a few doctors today. Stage IV metastasized colon cancer. The recommendation was for hospice care.

So I met with a nurse who works for the hospice agency recommended to me by the hospital. It turns out that we went to high school together and were even lab partners in AP Biology together. (She did much better in AP Biology than I did. If that wasn't the case, I'd be pretty concerned, right?)

An editorial note: go the hospice route. Hospice is the best thing to have happened in the past twenty years bar none. Hospice is amazing. Hospice is all providing people with the resources to die with dignity. They minister both to the person who is dying and to the people around that person. They take care of everything, so you can just focus on making the most of the limited time you have. If'n you're faced with a similar situation and you don't go with hospice, you're a nutjob.


Hospice nurse and I met and talked. She discussed perhaps a transitional place for my father, a nursing home or something, to give me time to get my brother up from Florida for more than a few days to help out and to get the house ready for him.

Then we went in to see my father.

She explained to him that they were all about getting him out of the hospital, making sure he was comfortable, and getting him home.

"Okay," said my father, "because there's nothing else they can do for me."

It broke my heart to hear him say that.

After talking to my father, hospice nurse and I met again.

"When was the last time your father ate anything?" she asked.

I considered.

I guess it would be the pancakes I made him the night he fell and broke his hip, I answered.

She explained that a natural part of the dying process was to stop eating. The person has no appetite, because at that point, the body no longer needs or wants food. In my mind, I imagined a big building, and a lone night watchman making his way through the building, floor by floor, turning out the lights. As the body shuts down, less and less energy and fuel is needed. Food becomes beside the point. And it gets to the point that digesting food takes up too much energy.

Hospice nurse explained that based on that information, and seeing my father and talking to him, his weakness and affect, my father has a couple of weeks at most.

Deep. Breath.

Now, the way I deal with a crisis is to figure out what needs to be done, and set about doing it. Focus on the tasks at hand. Get the job done. Prioritize. Take care of business.

After everything is taken care of, then my feelings will burble up to the surface. Till then, I keep going like the proverbial Energizer bunny.

First order of business: Ho(t)me(n) Depot.

Hospice requires that someone be with my father 24/7. So once he's home although they'll be able to provide somebody to pinch hit when I run out for grocery shopping or church or whatever, working five nine hour shifts (with an hour for lunch) a week is out of the question. I don't want to quit Ho(t)me(n) Depot. I just want to drop down to part-time or take a leave of absence or something. Ho(t)me(n) Depot seemed fine with that, although I'll have to talk to the Human Resources Manager tomorrow morning to work out a deal. Hospice nurse observed that Ho(t)me(n) Depot, in her experience, is not family friendly. But we'll see.

Not that I'm liking the idea of leaving Ho(t)me(n) Depot. I went there in person to talk it through, and as I was leaving, didn't I just see two smokin' hot men surveying their options in the toilet aisle.

Ouch! That hurt!

But we'll see how it goes.

Oh. And kudos to Way Hot Man!

I had called and asked how things were going and see if we could get together sometime soon. I gave him the rundown. And he was great. And then he said, "Listen. If you want, just give me a call and if I can, I'll run up there, make you dinner, bring a couple of DVDs.

"With explosions and car chases and a good torture scene?" I asked.

Of course, he said. Good escapist stuff. Just what the doctor ordered.

And kudos to my softball team. The manager called me to check in yesterday. I brought him up to speed. He's putting me on the roster. They're waiving the league fees and the umpire fees I'd have to play. If and when I can show up for a game this season, I'll play. If that's one game or all the games or somewhere in between, cool.

We're in the last leg of the journey. The weeks and/or days to come won't be easy. But I'll come through.

I took a quick break at Starbucks in Doylestown this afternoon, in between visits to the hospital. I tried writing in my journal about all this, but it was disjointed at best. No focus. Just the facts ma'am. I paused, distracted by some hot boy hanging out on the porch. I looked down, reading what I had just written, and was surprised with a final sentence that I don't remember writing: this is the best thing I've ever done.

Huh. No argument there.

Fallen Tree

Yesterday, I worked from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.. The day seemed to drag on forever. I was looking forward to quitting time. Two of my best friends in the world, Lou and John, were coming down (over? up?) from Reading to spend some time with me.

Lou and John and I met all those years ago in college. John and I were roommates sophomore and junior years, and Lou and I moved off campus and shared an apartment with a woman named Florence during our senior year. I could not begin to describe all we shared back then. And we've been close ever since.

Of course, within ten minutes of the end of the day, I got an awful customer: a woman picking out shower doors for her new McMansion. And of course, it didn't go well. And of course, it became this whole ordeal. And of course, I didn't finish up with her until 3:30. (At Ho(t)me(n) Depot, this is absolutely verbotten. Overtime is not allowed. I would have to cut it the next day.

But finally, Lou and John and I were sitting down to pho at a swell vietnamese restaurant. (Testimony to the bond we three share: when I announced that pho was my Cherry Pez, Lou and John needed no explanation of what I meant.) We lingered at the restaurant until they were just about ready to force us out the door at knife point, hit a bookstore a few doors away (Lou bought a book but wouldn't tell John and I the title). Then we headed to Doylestown for coffee. Since John has this Huge Aversion to Starbucks, we headed to the Bucks County Coffee Company. Then a brief walk around Doylestown--Lou and John were suitably impressed, even though we didn't make it down to the Mercer Museum because it was pretty frickin' cold--and then I drove them back to Montgomeryville where we had left Lou's car, and they got on the road back to Reading.


I headed over to rehab to visit my father. My father was weak, diminished, anguished. His voice was sort of a whispered mumble. I could barely understand him. While he was there, he had to use the bedpan. I helped roll him over so the nurse could get it underneath him.

Oh right, I thought at one point, this is how death happens: pain, shit, fear, gasping for breath. I've seen this movie before. More than at any other point in this ordeal, my father seemed to me like a dying man.

After my visit, I was rattled.

That stayed with me all day today even though work went well, relatively speaking. The overtime I had to cut meant I had an hour-and-a-half for lunch so I could linger over the Sunday Times. I got off at 8 p.m. and headed over to the rehab.

Past the front desk, up the elevator, down the hall, into my father's room, and for the second time, I was confronted with an empty bed where my father should be.

According to the nurse, my father seemed to be having a hard time, the doctor on staff decided to send him back to Doylestown Hospital, and that's where he was now.

I felt so bad for my dad. He wanted to get to rehab almost with an urgency. He saw it as a steppingstone to going home, ending this and putting it all behind him. And there he was, back in the hospital.

I packed up all the clothes I had brought him into plastic bags and headed to the hospital.

And there he was, sucking on this tube to put mist into his lungs. The respiratory therapist who was there said it was to make his breathing easier. My father paused and commented that it was "just like smoking a cigar."

He was pretty low. Clearly, going back to the hospital was a blow to him.

Oh my poor, poor dad.

Oh hell.

Months ago, I had a dream. In the dream, I was surveying a fallow field running along the line of trees that grow on our property. With a crack like a rifle shot, a huge, ancient tree swayed and fell, crashing down into the field, pulling up a huge root mass, falling with a crash.

Just that. The falling tree, still with green branches, enormous old giant.

I've learned at this point that nothing is predictive. Today is no indication of what tomorrow will hold. At first, it was like riding a rollercoaster as I tried to keep up. Now, I've concluded that nobody knows anything really, and to just roll with it.

While I was visiting my dad tonight, he was all of a sudden complaining of pain in his shoulder.

"Do you want me to rub your back? Make it feel better?"

"No! Well, okay."

I slipped my hand under my dad, lying there in his hospital bed and gently massaged his tensed muscles.

"Still hurting?" I asked.

"No, it feels a lot better," he answered.

"Where did you learn how to do that?" he asked.

I smiled. Thinking about giving and getting post-coital backrubs.

"Some man," I replied, playfully goading my father.

"Oh," he said, getting the joke.