Thursday, August 30, 2007

All Roads Lead to Rome... Eventually

I almost went to Rome today... but at the last minute, I decided to wait until Sunday.

It turned out that was a fortuitous decision. Late this morning, I found out from Wachovia that there were "complications" (their word, not mine) regarding the disbursement of the funds from Dad's IRA. The first two were lost paperwork issues... but since I was here in Marietta, I was able to fax replacements to the bank and get those problems solved. The second?...

Well, it appeared that someone at Wachovia interpreted the beneficiary clauses differently than everyone else thus far and had decided that the funds should be evenly divided between Kimberly and me. I could tell that Wachovia anticipated a fight--I guess a lot of people get really upset about the idea of getting less money from a relative's estate than they anticipated.

"So you want to give Kimberly half the money?" I asked.

"Yes, it appears so," they said.

"Great! Can you have a her a check this afternoon?"

Stammered confusion, then momentary silence.

"Ummm.... I think so. But you realize that this means that you will only be getting half as much as--"

"That's great! Kim's in a lower tax bracket than me, so she'll get to keep more of the money!"

And that settled that! Kim was going to get the money all along, whether through Wachovia or from me... this way, she gets to keep even more of it rather than losing more in taxes.

I remain amazed that there are families that will fragment over estates and wills and the like. And I am so thankful that Kimberly and I never been that way.

Cloud Cuckoo

Last night, Whitney brought a birthday surprise to the store: a chocolate cloud cake, which is best described by the culinarily-untrained (i.e., me) as an extremely rich chocolate souffle with a whipped cream topping, dusted with cocoa.

Yes, it was every bit as good as it sounds. Superb texture, decadently rich chocolate taste, rich and light at the same time...

Happy birthday to me!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Birthday Gift

One topic of conversation that Mom, Dad, and I never tired of was weather. Mom was an inveterate record-keeper of weather statistics, and I inherited that trait from her; since my retirement from teaching in 2000, I have kept records of the highs, lows, rainfall, and memorable weather events on a daily basis, and every day Dad and I would discuss the weather, comparing it with the same day's weather in years past.

This has been an excessively dry summer here in Georgia; at our house, we're some ten inches below normal in rainfall for the year (although we're still ahead on a five-year basis, for those who like to look at the big picture), and in Rome, the situation is far more dire at almost twenty inches below normal. Before Dad was taken from us, he and I had kept each other apprised of the dryness in both Rome and Marietta, and we'd frequently wish for rain for either our locale or the other's.

According to the only records I can find, I was born at about 2 in the afternoon on August 26, 1953.

Today, at about 1:30, a uniformly dark cloud moved over our area and, at about 2 in the afternoon, it began to rain. It rained steadily for an hour, giving us almost an inch of soaking rain with no lightning or heavy winds. Just three miles away from here, it didn't rain at all; three miles in the other direction, there was lightning damage; three miles north, a few trees were uprooted by strong downbursts.

What did I get for my birthday? I got rain... and I will always think of it as a gift from two loving people who always shared my appreciation for a summer rainstorm that breaks the dryness and brings a burst of cool air to a sultry summer afternoon...

Deservedly Discarded

ABC's Masters of Science Fiction aired its final episode last night--and after sitting through all four sub-par hours, I can see why the network chose not to air the remaining two episodes that'll be seen only in Canada (and on some syndicated cable network in a few months, I'll bet). All four hours were ham-fisted, preachy, and poorly developed, and three of the four were also cliched and embarrassing in their scripts as well as production values (only the Heinlein episode had a few moments of redemptive writing, although much of it was reduced to absurdity that detracted from the central point of Heinlein's story).

Last night's episode, based on Harlan Ellison's "The Discarded" (and featuring Ellison himself in a cameo), was the worst of a bad lot. The story itself was the sort of inept socio-commentary that all too frequently typifies bad science fiction: plague-infected outcasts (some would inaccurately call them mutants, I guess, even though a mutant must be differentiated genetically from prior generations, not modified by disease) are found to bear the antibodies for a cure that will help save the planet that has ostracized them. Of course, after they sacrifice their own ethos for the chance to return to Earth, the planet that once shunned them uses them and subsequently discards them once again. Take that tired and predictable format, add inappropriate film noir private eye music for no apparent reason than the fact that they must have had some on hand, add in laughable effects and acting derived from the "yell the lines loudly and they won't sound as stupid" school of delivery, and you have a painful hour of television.

I know that Ellison is capable of writing better--and in fact, has done so for television as well as for print. However, this was below the standards of the worst episodes of the relaunched Outer Limits, and rivals the abominable quality of those avert-your-eyes-in-pity original films on the Sci Fi Network.

Bear in mind, though, that the producers of this series managed to reduce a well-crafted Robert A. Heinlein short story to a dull, plodding experience; I am convinced that everyone associated with this show must secretly despise science fiction. That's the only way they could possibly try to sell this to the public as the Masters of Science Fiction....

Birthday Surprise

For some reason, people maintain that I'm hard to shop for. I have no idea why they say that, since I have no trouble finding things to buy for myself. Nevertheless, it's rare when someone comes up with something that I want that I've never even heard of until I receive it as a gift... but that's what Susan came up with.

Pictured here is Frey's Dark Chocolate with Chilli Pepper (no, I didn't misspell it... "chilli" is the manufacturer's spelling, so that's what I'm going with here). The best way to describe it is a richly flavored chocolate redolent with the intensity of a 70% cocoa base, to which have been added crisply piquant bits of dried chilli peppers that add an almost toffee-bit crunch to the candy. The chillis are fresh enough that opening the wrapper conveys the bouquet of chillis along with the headiness of dark chocolate.

I admit to being slightly dubious when I first saw it, but curiosity outweighed caution as I unwrapped it and broke off a square. The combination, it turns out, is inspired; I think those Mayans were on to something!

Susan tells me that she found it at Target--and she advises that, if you're interested, you act quickly. No, they're not selling out--in fact, they're not selling any at all! The bar she bought was the only bar taken from an otherwise full box, so the odds are it'll go on close-out very soon...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stumbling Forward

It's been eleven days since Dad's death, and twenty-seven days since the hospital first called me to tell me Dad was there. I think I'm learning to deal with it better, but I still have those moments of unexpected sorrow and loss.

I had been accustomed to discussing even the most mundane events with Dad; it's still force of habit to pick up the phone and give him a call, and I have done it several times without thinking. Dad never recorded his own answering machine message, preferring to use the "prepackaged" one on the phone; now I wish that he had, just so I could hear his voice on the machine once again.

I know that I have some family recordings of Dad from various happier times, and I think I'll get them out in the next few days just to hear Mom and Dad again. I miss their voices so much; since we lived miles apart, I relied on the phone to stay in contact. Now I can talk to them, but I can't hear those voices any longer, except in my memories.

Today I'm mopey; Kim and I spent an hour or two at Dad's house on Thursday, sorting through a few things and making some plans as to what we need to do. Being there with her was good for me, because there's no one alive other than she and I who can remember what it was like to live in that house--and that's a bond that we will always share. There are many wonderful memories there, and those memories make the solemnity of the coming months more bearable.

And I know this sounds remarkably self-indulgent and egocentric, but there's also something particularly sad about my birthday tomorrow. This will be my first birthday without either of the two people to whom my birth and existence really mattered for each and every one of the past fifty-four years... sort of a lonely thing, and it leaves me disinclined to want to do anything to mark the day.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Words from Dad: Part Two

Thanks to Aunt Barbara, who sent me a wonderful birthday present of several of Dad's columns from years past, I can share a few more of Dad's words with you. Of all the pieces that Aunt Barbara sent me, this one is my favorite; I'll explain why after I give Dad his turn, with this piece from May 10, 1981:

I don't recall that Mom ever put a hand on me in anger during my growing years. It's not that she never had good reason to give my behind a few well-placed smacks. I have to admit, I got into my share of trouble, and I wasn't above stretching the truth if it meant I could wiggle out of a tough spot.

But Mom never spanked me. Not to my knowledge, anyway. It wasn't her style.

Let me tell you a little about my family. There are seven of us kids: five girls and two boys. I grew up with three of my sisters and it was a normal childhood inasmuch as we fought and argued like other brothers and sisters.

As I think back now, I remember that it was my oldest sister who gave me my first bloody nose. It was also my oldest sister who rushed to my side when the neighborhood rowdies got out of hand.

Two other sisters and a brother came along much later. They were Mom's second family. That's her choice of words, not mine.

Mother didn't need to turn us over her knee to teach us discipline. She had a more devastating weapon at her disposal. Her face could tell you all you ever wanted to knew, even if her lips never moved. Just a glance into her face and you knew you had crossed the line, that you had said or done something wrong.

It wasn't anger that you saw, either. It took a lot then--as it does even today--to make Mother angry. But the disappointment was clearly there. It was written in her eyes, and her silent lips delivered an unmistakable message. I had twisted the truth and not a word was said to dispute it, but I knew that she knew. It left you with a feeling that you had betrayed your first true love.

Today is Mother's Day, and if you will allow me the privilege, I have a few feelings I would like to share with this delightful lady. Quite possibly, they are the same feelings you want to share with you mother.

Dear Mom: It's Mother's Day. It's your day and your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be there again to let you know how much you mean to them. The truth is that I have been thinking a lot about you lately. I worry about your health and how it has robbed you of the independence you cherish so much. I worry about not being able to be with you as much as I would like. I know you say there's no cause to worry, but I worry anyhow.

It's funny how, as I grow older,I am able to recall so many pleasant memories from the past--things I haven't thought about for years. Like the angel food cakes you used to bake for my birthday. How you used to keep what seemed like a stalk of bananas in the house because you knew I liked them so much. And the tears in your eyes the day I cut my hand while trying to chop up some kindling.

I remember when I used to go to sleep on the couch listening to my favorite radio programs. You said I needed my sleep, but you didn't insist that I go to bed. I'd wake up the next morning and a quilt would be over me. No one had to tell me who put it there.

I remember so well that time when I met my future bride. You sensed almost from the beginning that it was something special, so you backed off to give me room to grow up. There were so many subtle encouragements that I didn't recognize then, so much patience that I didn't appreciate. I have since learned that it's not so much what is spoken between mother and son as it is what is felt.

There was the time when, as a young adult, I left toe loving family warmth you had created. I knew you were always there if I needed you. And knowing that gave me the reassurance that helped me get over some of the rough spots.

You don't ask much from life--never did. You seem to enjoy it so much when your sons and daughters visit. I can tell that there are times when the grandchildren are aggravating, but you share a patience with them that you have long shared with me and your other children.

I think of all these things today because it's a special day--it's your day. In truth, however, I think of these things on other days as well. You're a special person in my life every day of the year. I don't tell you that as much as I'd like, but you know how grownups are. Sometimes I feel guilty for it... and then I remember how it has always been with us. We can tell each other so much without ever saying a word.

Happy Mother's Day.


Dad wrote several Mother's Day columns, and I'll reprint a couple of more of them over the next week or two. But this one had one of the most vivid images of all, a picture that will stay with me forever: Dad as a boy, falling asleep as he listened to his favorite radio programs. I never saw that, but I often saw Dad fall asleep in front of the television set, watching his favorite programs. Mom and Kim and I would joke about the fact that Dad may have never seen the last fifteen minutes of half the programs he watched because he would inevitably doze off.

In the past few years, Dad had begun to watch television primarily in his bedroom; knowing he enjoyed this, I had gotten him a Toshiba television with a built-in DVD player and VCR so that he could watch whatever he wanted to. Dad loved it; he would buy DVD's to watch before he went to sleep--and often they were the same movies he enjoyed so much in his younger years. In the past few months, as I would go to Rome to help Dad manage his finances and take care of various odds and ends, I would bring up a handful of DVDs--usually two for each day between that visit and my next. Dad loved it; he wanted to pay me for the DVDs, but I would have none of that.

Now I know that Dad's habits were set early--and I can see how little any of us change. We get older... we have to become more mature... but our habits and our joys remain much the same, following patterns set in our childhood.

Dad mentions bananas--and again, it strikes a chord that resonated through his adult life. Dad loved bananas--he would eat bananas by themselves, he would eat them in Mom's Waldorf salad, he would eat banana and mayonnaise sandwiches, he would eat banana and peanut butter sandwiches, he loved banana pudding... After Dad's stroke, when I went to his house to clean up anything that needed to be addressed immediately, I found three over-ripe tomatoes and two overripe bananas on his counter (Dad liked both bananas and tomatoes "two days too ripe," as I called it), because Dad always wanted to have both on hand at all times.

Those glimpses into Dad's childhood make this the most memorable of all his columns.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

One Day at a Time

As you noticed, I haven't posted anything for the last few days. I also haven't done much of anything for the last few days; after the stresses and pressures of the past three weeks, I needed to take a few days to bury myself in mundane activities, to turn my mind off to a degree, and to learn to deal with the new reality of a world without Dad.

It hasn't been a steady process; I'm surprised at how the most trivial things can cause a flood of powerful feelings to boil over. Foods that Dad really liked; songs that he often sang along with in a melodious voice that I constantly envied; casual fragments of conversation that echo the frequent phone chats that Dad and I had... all of them can pull me out of a normal mood and lead me into dark, lonely corners of my thoughts. All of these will become cherished memories in time, but right now they force me to confront my loss--and not on my own terms.

As my good friend Dr. Mike said, "you never get over it. After a while, though, it hurts less."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Redefining Normalcy

Today was the beginning of a return to normal life after the intensity of the past two weeks and five days. Even as I write that, I ask myself, "has it really been just under three weeks since that evening phone call from Floyd Medical Center?" It's true: that Sunday night call began one of the most far-reaching emotional odysseys of my entire life.

Normalcy began with my first full night's sleep since July 29th. I was in bed by 1 a.m. and didn't get up until 9 a.m. (even though I did wake up about an hour before that--I didn't actually get up, so I think it counted as sleeping late). And for the first time since that day, I didn't go to Rome.

In fact, I didn't do anything particularly productive today. I know that I should have worked on Comic Shop News, I should have cleaned up the clutter I've made around the house, I should have filed away a lot of paperwork... but I felt like doing nothing at all, which is just what I did.

The day wasn't totally normal, as I doubt that any day will be totally normal for a while yet. When I was walking, I found myself reaching for my phone to press button 2--Dad's auto-dial button--since I always called him during my morning walk. Then, when I was taking a few things out of the car, I found the hospital bag containing Dad's clothes from July 29th--a more disturbing moment than I would ever have anticipated.

A trip to the grocery store... an afternoon walk... an idle phone conversation with an old friend, another with a good neighbor... a trip to a local department store... all things I would have taken for granted once. Now, each of them embodies an engaging mundanity that I crave.

It will be a while before life is truly normal. There will still be too many sad moments, unexpected remembrances, and rediscovered loss. There will be more good memories and recollections of past happiness, too. And of course, there is the real world that must be dealt with--there is a will to file, there are notices to Social Security and the Veteran's Administration that must be submitted, there are accounts to transfer, and there are the accumulated fragments of a magical lifetime that must be sorted through as the house welcomes a new generation and a new child who will, I hope, have a childhood every bit as wonderful as my own in this love-filled home...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ceremonial Sorrow

Today was the day of Dad's funeral.

Our original plan was to have someone from Jennings Oaknoll deliver a fairly non-religious eulogy, but plans changed. Last night, at the funeral home, Aunt Jean brought us a copy of Dad's column from 11/27/1983, a piece entitled "If we only look, there are many reasons to give thanks." Kim thought it defined Dad in so many ways that she read it at the funeral today.

Here is that piece:

As we prepare to pause from our daily labors to observe another Thanksgiving--hopefully with our loved ones--it is only appropriate that e also reflect on our many reasons for giving thanks. Oh, the reasons are there, if only we are willing to look beyond the troubles we somehow allow to occupy our lives.
And if you'll permit me the opportunity offer several of my own reasons, I think you, too, will agree.
I'm thankful for a wife who is the one person I can always count on for support when I need it most and for two wonderful children who have grown into equally wonderful adults.
I'm thankful for the excitement that stirs in an old body when my daughter tells me I'm going to be a grandpa.
I'm thankful for true friends who are not influenced by my many weaknesses.
I'm thankful for the cup of coffee that gets me started each morning and for the one that helps me unwind each evening.
I'm thankful for deadlines that are easily met and for stories with happy endings. The former is a relief; the latter is a pleasant rarity these days when so much bad news is being reported.
I'm thankful for sheets that have been warmed by an electric blanket on a cold winter night.
I'm thankful for fifty percent off sales on those things I always wanted but thought I could never afford.
I'm thankful for the winter grass that forces its way out of the soil and creates a green blanket beneath bare trees.
I'm thankful for the aroma of hamburgers cooked on outdoor grills and for my wife's homemade chili that makes it a special meal.
I'm thankful for the coolness of an unexpected breeze on a hot summer day, and for the sun that sneaks out of the clouds to brighten these dreary winter days.
I'm thankful for the sound of rain dripping out of the downspout next to our bed and how it stirs memories of those old tin roofs.
I'm thankful for birthdays and all other special occasions that bring the family together fora few precious hours.
I'm thankful for the smile of a stranger who passes me on the street.
I'm thankful for someone in sports like Dale Murphy because it reminds me that not all athletes are spoiled brats.
I'm thankful for traffic lights that remain green on those days when I'm running late.
I'm thankful for someone who telephones unexpectedly with a kind word.
I'm thankful for nature's magic that transforms tiny plants into delicious tomatoes, and little seeds into giant ears of corn.
I'm thankful for the quite time I can spent just sitting out on the back porch, forgetting for the moment all that remains to be done.
I'm thankful for a restaurant meal that is all the menu claims it to be.
I'm thankful for vacations that provide a weird sort of relaxation even though I stay on the go much more than I ever do at home.
I'm thankful for street lights and for the kids who use them as their playgrounds after darkness has taken away the day.
I'm thankful for movies that make me laugh and those that bring a tear to my eye.
I'm thankful that the music of the 1950's is still around to enjoy.
I'm thankful for being able to voice my opinion and vote for whomever I please.
I'm thankful for grocery stores and gasoline stations that stay open all night.
I'm thankful for utility bills that are less than I had imagined they would be.
I'm thankful for a friendly face that emerges from out of the crowd at some out-of-town place.
I'm thankful for the Falcons, who possess an uncanny ability to win or lose in the final seconds on any given Sunday afternoon.
I'm thankful for those rare opportunities to visit with farmers and walk over the land.
I'm thankful for family reunions and the chance to exchange small talk with those I haven't seen since the last family reunion.
I'm thankful for politicians who admit they don't know everything, or that theirs isn't the only answer to any given problem.
I'm thankful for delivery and repair men who arrive when they say they will.
I'm thankful for the smell of freshly mowed grass that brings back memories of watermelon.
I'm thankful for friends who drop in and for neighbors who know and care when everything isn't right.
I'm thankful for a snow that paints the lawn an antiseptic white.
I'm thankful when the final leaf has fallen and has been hauled off, just as I am thankful when a new season's growth begins to emerge on trees and shrubs.
I'm thankful for those who poke fun at me, because I know they care.
And finally, I'm thankful for those minutes when my wife and I can reflect on all we have to be thankful for.
--Don Biggers

Kim read the piece with grace and power, conveying a tranquil serenity that Dad had intended with this piece. I could hear Dad's tone in her voice, and I took comfort in it.

I had prepared nothing in writing, but I related two brief experiences, which I will recreate here.

I remember when my Dad's sister Barbara--who became involved in genealogy long before the Internet made research quick and easy--discovered the Biggers family crest and motto. I remember that Dad was a little bit surprised; "I didn't know that plain folks like us had crests and mottos," he remarked.

The motto was only three words. "Giving and forgiving." And no one ever epitomizes those three words more than my father, who was the most giving and forgiving man I ever knew.

I also remember that, whenever anyone asked Dad how he was doing, he would look at them earnestly, smile, and say, "Just wonderful."

I can still hear Dad saying, "Just wonderful." The difference is, today it's true. He's healthy and happy and whole again, and he's with Mom, and at last, he really is "just wonderful."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sharing Grief

This evening was the time for viewing and reception at the funeral home. I'm not sure if this custom is international--in fact, I don't even know if it's national--but just in case: this is a time family meets at the funeral home to share their grief and memories and to speak with friends who have come to share their grief and memories. It's a powerful and moving experience, because it's one of the few times I can think of when a large number of people come together because of totally unselfish love for someone else.

It's an event colored by sorrow, of course, because it exists only because someone we love has died. But there is much to celebrate and appreciate about the experience. There are so many people who have memories of our loved ones to which we might not otherwise be privy, and they're willing to share those with you.

There were many people from the many facets of Dad's life--his family, his golfing friends, his co-workers from the newspaper days, his neighbors, those who knew him from his days in governmental service, those who were helped by his generosity and benevolence. Each of them knew the same kind soul, but each of them also knew things that others might not have otherwise known.

Dad's sister Barbara is an amazing font of knowledge of family history and of details about Dad's childhood and early life. I could talk with her for ours... for days... and still only touch the surface of her immeasurable treasure trove of memories.

Aunt Jean and Uncle Red have always closer to us than any other relatives--I spent many weeks of my childhood staying at there house with my cousins. They, too, have wonderful memories of Dad and Mom, and have always been generous with those memories.

There were people I barely knew, but they knew Dad well, and were saddened by his loss. They told me about their connections with him, and it reminded me that even as close as we all were to Dad, there were many hours in every day that he spent with others--and they have much to tell us about Dad.

Sometimes I wish that I could write all of it down as they talk, to preserve those memories before they dissipate. So many vignettes, so many fragments of a complex 75 year long life... and so much compassion, so much empathy, so much sorrow, and so much joy.

A sorrow shared is half a sorrow, someone once said. In that case, my sorrow was reduced to a tiny fraction of its former self tonight...

Tomorrow we bury Dad. There will be more moments of emptiness and loss, more unpredictable moments of emotional turbulence... and more memories of joy and pride and happiness. And always, love...

Touching Other Lives

The number of people who held Dad in high regard is simply amazing; I knew that he had friends in the community, but I remain amazed at how many people have expressed condolences and sorrow at his passing.

The Rome News-Tribune ran a touching editorial in today's paper; you can read it here.

We often have no idea how love and appreciation can link us with so many people.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Time to Say Goodbye

For friends and family who have been asking:

The family visitation is Thursday, August 16th, from 6pm until 8pm at Jennings Oaknoll Funeral Home at 2542 Shorter Avenue, Rome GA 30165 (phone 706.291.0073).

The funeral service will be held on Friday morning at 11am in the Jennings Oaknoll chapel at the same address. It's too hot to ask anyone to endure a graveside services; Dad didn't like very hot weather, and I can almost hear him now saying "it's just too hot to be outdoors!"

A Greater Appreciation

The Rome News Tribune has just posted an expanded piece on Dad, complete with a photo and a few more quotes. You can see it here:

I have already begun to hear from those whose lives he touched, and I expect I will hear from many more when the paper goes on sale tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Saying Goodbye

When I got up this morning, I never envisioned that this would be Dad's last day. I am so thankful that I was able to get to Rome in time to be with him in his final hours... and that Kim and I, with the help of Betty from hospice care, were able to make him more comfortable during his last afternoon with us.

As soon as I finished unloading the van and processing comics, I left the store for Rome, arriving at the hospital at about 2:20. When I got to the room, Dad was obviously uncomfortable; he was moaning and was more agitated than usual. At one point, he even mumbled a word or two--something he hadn't done in the past couple of days.

I immediately asked Lisa, his nurse, to give him something for discomfort. She told me that she had given him 2 milligrams of morphine at 2 pm, but she gave him some Atavan. After a few minutes, it became evident that the Atavan wasn't helping; at that point, I asked her to giv him something else and she gave him 2 more milligrams of morphine.

Shortly after that, Kim arrived, and she too could see Dad's distress. Kim immediately got help from Betty, who came in and saw that he was uncomfortable; she ordered 5 milligrams of morphine and told the nurse to give him 5 milligrams every hour to ensure he didn't feel any pain. That seemed to make the difference; shortly after that, Dad began to relax, and his breathing became less forced.

"I think he's nearing the end," Betty said, pointing to Dad's shallow breathing and his pallor. "It could be hours, or it could be a day or two."

"Do you think that he needs to have someone with him through the night to make sure he doesn't die alone?" Kim asked. Betty nodded, adding that she couldn't say with certainty, but from her experience she thought that Dad's demise was approaching.

We talked to Dad, trying to calm him and let him know that Mom was waiting for him. We urged him to relax; he had done everything that he could do for everyone here, and now it was time for him to let go. Dad seemed to drift into a deep sleep.

Kim and I continued to talk about a schedule for the next day or so; in the interim, Cole and Christy had arrived, and Kim had called Jessica to let her know the time might be near. I also called Aunt Jean, who had just visited Dad that morning, to let her know.

At just after 4:30, as we were talking, Dad gasped a rattling, sharp breath; immediately, Kim and I knew this was different. As we both looked at him, we realized that his eyes were half-open and vacant, and he wasn't breathing. There were a few more shallow, infrequent breaths, but we were told that his heart had stopped and there was no longer any pulse. After a couple of more moments, Dad's once tenacious, now tenuous grasp on life released, and he was gone.

We cried--but to be honest, I cried more earlier in the day when I saw Dad's discomfort and couldn't do anything to assuage it. Dad's death was merciful and peaceful, ending a struggle that went on for days after the stroke had taken away that kind and noble mind and that generous and loving spirit; the body was slower to succumb.

Dad is free from pain now; he is whole and healthy and happy and reunited with Mom, with his parents, with Aunt Alice, with Aunt Norma, and Uncle Roy. Any tears we shed now are for those of us who have lost this remarkable man and have to endure a world that is lessened by his absence.

I feel both an inexpressible emptiness and a solemn joy--emptiness that, for the first time in my life, I exist in a world in which neither of my parents can advise me, share my joys, or console my sorrows; and joy that the burdens Dad had endured for so long have been taken from him.

Tonight and tomorrow and Thursday we alternate between mournful sorrow and wistful nostalgia as we remember so many happy events from so many years with Dad. Friday, we place Dad alongside Mom in the gravesite they both picked out years before--forever a part of West Rome, which they made their home in 1963 and now will never leave. And then we try to rebalance our lives.

Good night, Dad. Good night, Mom. I'll talk to you soon.

Funeral Info

For family members who are trying to make plans: currently, it appears that we will receive visitors at the Jennings Oaknoll Funeral Home on Shorter Avenue/Alabama Road (I don't remember where it changes names) in West Rome on Thursday evening, with the funeral to follow on Friday morning. I won't have precise times until tomorrow afternoon, but will post it here once I have the info.

The first Rome News Tribune story about Dad's death can be found here:

The story will be updated as reporter Heath Hooper assembles more info.

And I will write more tonight; right now, I'm just trying to get my thoughts together...

Back Home

Today, at approximately 4:35, Dad passed on.

I will write more later on tonight, but I wanted my friends and family to know that Dad's struggle was over and he is now at peace, reunited with the woman he loved, with his parents, and with so many others who were dear to him.

In Transit

Dad is still in between; that kind and noble mind and that generous and loving soul have already moved on, but the body still clings tenaciously to life, although I don't know how it can do so. Dad's on morphine now to ensure that he's comfortable in these final days; intellectually, I believe that he is, but emotionally I am in torment as I watch his decline. I want to be able to offer him comfort, to soothe him, but there's nothing I can do that will offer him any respite.

I remember Dad's concern for me when I broke my arm; his love for Kim when she fractured her elbow (once he had seen her through the worst of it, he went into another room at the hospital and threw up, but he refused to let the seriousness of her injury get the best of him until he was sure she was treated and was okay); I hope he knows that our love for him is every bit that strong, but we simply lack the power to offer him any relief from the rigors of his final days. We watch him closely, asking the nurses to check, to give him morphine, to look for any signs of physical discomfort; they never seem to find any, but they minister to him as we request, because they have seen families go through this before.

I hope that Dad can see the light that Mom has placed to illuminate his journey; it's been a difficult path, but he's so very close now...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Strength in Numbers

Today, Dad was much weaker. I thought at first that the hospital had given him something to relax him, but Kim said that wasn't the case; Dad's body is slowing down as it continues to fail him, and as a result he is much quieter and sleeps most of the time, occasionally mumbling a sound or two or humming a few notes of a wonderful song that only he can hear.

I am still tormented by the knowledge of what is happening to Dad; my most basic urge is to protect him, to comfort him, to end his suffering... and I can't. When I look at his drawn, weary face, I still see the sanguine, happy, confident, compassionate man who guided me through my childhood and adult years, and I so miss him.

Something happened today--I don't even recall what, because it was so trivial--but without thinking, I reached for my phone to press autodial-2 to call Dad and tell him about it. For more than four and a half years now, I have talked to Dad at least once every day, and it still feels natural to do so. Alas, I can only talk to him... I can no longer hear his replies, share his days, or plan for the future with him.

I spoke with Aunt Jean, Uncle Red, and my cousin Frank today; I have written about Frank previously, and will always treasure the childhood we spent together. Frank's concern was so strong and his love for Dad and for me was evident in his words.

If there is any good that has come from this horrible event, it is the awareness of how many people there are out there who love and care for Dad and for us. I have taken strength from the supportive words from Dad's sisters Barbara, Martha, and Donna, and from his brother Paul and his wife (also named Donna). I have heard from Dad's friends, from neighbors, from former co-workers, and I have heard from my own friends, who have done everything they can to offer support and solace. Jean, Brett, Lanny, Charles, Chris, Sven, Doug, Kelly, Jared, Whitney... all of them have shared my pain in an effort to ease my burden. And friends from the store, like Dr. Mike and Lee and Andy and Brian, have also expressed heartfelt sympathy that helps.

We don't always remember how many people there are who care...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Day Fourteen

Today is the fourteenth day since Dad was taken to the hospital with his first stroke. He is weaker, but still happy within the jumbled world of his damaged mind. He verbalizes, although little of it makes sense and none of it is directed to us; sometimes we understand that he's talking to people from his past, sometimes I recognize his words as being directed to mother, and sometimes he seems to be asking questions of people we can't identify. The words that we recognize comprise a very small part of his overall speech, though; most of it is noises and repeated syllables.

Dad still does not respond to any visual cues; he does not respond to verbal directions nor does he reply to questions (other than making noises and occasionally a word or two that are not responsive); his physical responses (squeezing hands, etc.) are random and undirected. I saw today that his right hand is begin to draw up, with the fingers curling inward toward the wrist below the base of the palm. His face appears more sallow and drawn, but that first evidenced itself two days ago, even before the living will was invoked.

I am certain that there should be a more peaceful, compassionate means of allowing a person to die with dignity. Once advanced directives are enacted, we should be able to afford the people we love with some means of completing those wishes other than the current barbaric system that seems hypocritically unsupportive of the dying and heartlessly cruel to those survivors who are tormented by the process.

I am hopeful that I will feel happy and content at some point in the future, when I know that Dad is reunited with Mom. Right now, though, I exist in a twilight that seems unending.

Not Knowing

The worst thing about this horrible situation is the doubts that creep into my mind: what if I'm doing the wrong thing? How can I be sure? Dad's living will is very clear about what he wants... but what if I and the doctors are misinterpreting something?

This is the question that haunts my waking hours as I sit there watching Dad die; this is the question that keeps me awake through the night as I lie in bed.

There is no certainty but the grave. All else is doubt and fear.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Seeking Balance

As I told my friend Charles a few minutes ago, I'm trying to find a balance right now, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, but the anchor point I need remains elusive. The process of dying is much harder to watch than it is to experience (and I am in a relatively elite group that can make that claim with a basis of knowledge, so I'm not just spinning platitudes), and that makes this a particularly distressing process.

It's the cruel anomaly of medicine, I guess: we know the point that Dad's moving to, but medicine can do nothing to help him get there without the horrid process itself. When a living will has been invoked at the specific written request of the patient, there should be some simple, dignified way to allow thost instructions to be fulfilled.

Twelve days now since the process began, and ten days since Dad left us... but we're in a purgatory between this world and what lies beyond, waiting on Dad to complete the transition to something better than what life has dealt him.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Knowing Despair

Today, we met with Drs. Glass, Gonzalez, Jester, and Naguszewski; we learned more information about Dad's condition and its inevitable end. Not only did the first stroke continue to involve more of his brain, there was a second stroke that significantly impacted the basal ganglia; the end result is that there is no chance of Dad's recovery, no chance of anything more than the most minor improvement, no chance of a return to cognizance, no chance of even limited mobility...

The situation was even more bleak than we had initially envisioned, if that's possible. And it was clear that Dad's condition fell far below any minimum acceptable quality of life he had established in his living will; Dad was very specific in that document, giving us guidance and instructions as to what must be done if he found himself in the condition in which he is now.

We realize so little. It never occurred to us that Sunday the 29th and the early hours of Monday the 30th would be the last time our father would truly be alive. His body has continued to function since then, but the aspects that truly defined Dad were destroyed in that first stroke. It's taken us this long to fully understand and accept this; we've mourned for ten days while simultaneously hoping in the back of our minds that some miracle might occur.

I had thought that I had steeled myself against false hope, but the confirmation of Dad's condition was a crushing moment for me. Love is built on hope, and no amount of logic can prevent that.

Now we wait for Dad's body to fail as well. But we already grieve, and try to hold onto the memories of better times with Mom and Dad... and we find solace in the realization that two people who should have never been separated will be together once again.

Coming to Terms

Dr. Glass, the second neurologist to focus on Dad's case, called me just a little after 6:30 this morning, just as he said he would. He had already reviewed Dad's chart in detail, and was quite concerned about Dad's condition; he questioned me in detail for thirty minutes to gather more information than the chart notes held, then told me he felt that a second MRI was essential, and he wanted to do it today. Kim went to the hospital to sign consent papers, and the tests were underway shortly after lunch.

At about 7:30, Dr. Glass called. He had spent quite some time reviewing the results, and the news was as bad as I had feared. Dad's stroke had continued to involve more of his brain than was shown on the last MRI; whether this was another stroke or the effusive devastation of the last one, he didn't say. Based on the stroke, Dad's condition, and the areas of the brain involved, Dr. Glass said that he saw little hope of any meaningful recovery beyond where Dad was right now. Too much of the brain is too damaged, and what is left is simply unable to compensate.

Shortly after that, I called Kim to share what Dr. Glass had said; I wish now that I had waited. Kim was having dinner with Phil, and my call so took her by surprise that she was devastated. I would give anything if I could have undone that call; Kim was enjoying one of the week's few pleasant moments away from oppressive sorrow and responsibility, and my call ruined that for her.

Less than ten minutes after my call to Kim, Dr. Naguszewski called. He, too, had reviewed the results of the second MRI; he confirmed that the involved area of the brain was much more widespread than was shown in the first MRI, and he said that, based on this test, he was far more pessimistic. He told me that, barring a miracle, there was virtually no chance at all of any recovery beyond the level we saw right now.

This was what I had suspected, but what I had also dreaded. Even when I had doubted the positive picture that Dr. Naguszewski had painted on Friday, I guess that some part of me had clung to the idea that maybe, just maybe he'd be proven right and everyone else would be proven wrong. Now I am forced to accept that Dad is gone to us now, and Kim and I must determine what happens next.

I miss Dad more than ever. It has been ten days since we had a meaningful conversation; I have never in my life gone ten days without talking to Dad about one topic or another. I can still talk to him, but I can no longer hear his advice, share his joys, address his concerns...

People go through moments like this every day, but I find no consolation in that. I am already mourning Dad's passing; that caring, generous, wise, and compassionate soul has already departed from our ranks, and my world seems bleak and joyless because of that. I will lament and cry again when Dad's body also fails him, but the part that defined him left us days ago, and we are only now fully realizing that.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Another day that didn't go at all the way I had hoped or anticipated. This morning, just as Brett and I were getting ready to head to Conley (home of Atlanta's scenic Mount Trashmore!) to pick up comics at the FedEx Freight hub, Kim called to tell me that the hospital was trying to dump Dad into a nursing home sixty miles from Rome.

I had feared that this was what Dr. Naguszewski had in mind when he painted this rosy picture of Dad's rehabilitation and recovery; when everyone else was painting a bleak picture, he described Dad talking, walking with the aid of a walker, and enjoying a reasonable quality of life. He told us how he and the neurological team were prepared to work with Dad on therapy, including aggressive treatment with Aricept and other medications; how they'd try physical therapy to see if there was any improvement; and how Dad certainly wouldn't be moved anywhere until he was ready.

At the time we found out that they were talking to nursing homes about this, Dad had not seen a therapist at all since Thursday afternoon; he had been given no Aricept or any other medication targeting his stroke and its related damage; and he has only been on what I refer to as "physical maintenance" medication (antibiotics, blood pressure medication, insulin), along with his peg-tube feeding and a little bit of Depacon (which he's been on since Monday of last week).

I don't know if the hospital is trying to get Dad out of here right now because it makes their numbers look good (hey, another positive outcome for a stroke patient!) or because they're worried about the fact that he sat here for two days in a neurological ward specializing in strokes before it occurred to them to do any testing to see if just possibly he'd had a stroke on Sunday night. Two days with no proactive treatment for a stroke in a facility that advertises itself as in the top 10% of the nation's stroke centers.

Tomorrow I need to talk to a medical malpractice attorney to see if there's any legal action that can be taken to keep Dad in the hospital, to ensure that he gets appropriate treatment, and to block such dumping. But now, I'm just sitting here running interference, trying to throw up any road block I can to prevent them from moving him.

I asked for a second neurological consultation because I simply don't have any confidence in Dr. Naguszewski's opinion; he made it clear that he will not consider quality of life in the development of any plan for Dad, regardless of Dad's living will. He also seems to make a lot of promises that he has no intention of keeping. Right now, we've asked for a second opinion from Dr. Glass, another Rome neurologist; originally, they thought they wouldn't be able to get him in to see Dad until Thursday, but now they've asked for him to come by tomorrow morning (I just found that out a few minutes ago).

I also have asked for a meeting with all of Dad's doctors to try to get some coordinated information; so far, I'm getting bits and pieces, and I feel like I'm in a medical version of "the blind men and the elephant." No one seems to be actively communicating with each other, and no one seems to have any interest in a plan to determine Dad's prognosis prior to dumping him.

Dr. Jester was bluntly honest today: "Either we can move him to a nursing home or you can order that we strictly interpret his living will and we can withhold all treatment and wait for him to die."

I'm feeling so out of my league on all of this, but I'm not willing to quit fighting for the right thing for Dad.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Eight Days

It's been eight days since Dad's stroke. Wish I could report significant improvement, but nothing much has changed since yesterday. Dad is opening his eyes a bit more than he did yesterday... but there's no indication that he's actually seeing anything, so I'm not sure that's helpful. Dad continues to verbalize, sometimes more sometimes less--but the words and phrases he speaks still aren't responses to questions or commands. And he still doesn't respond to requests for action (squeeze my hand, raise your arm, wiggle your toes, etc.).

I think the fatigue is starting to catch up with me. I actually had trouble keeping my eyes open while I was walking this afternoon--and when you're nearly dozing off on a two-miles walk in 90 degree heat, I think it's a sign that you're weary. I haven't slept well since this began; one or two nights I slept for five or six hours, but three or four hours is more the norm, between the time I stare into the darkness worrying about Dad and the time I wake up in the pre-dawn hours to worry about Dad some more. At least I'm remarkably single-minded...

The drive to Rome has become a bit of an obstacle course, thanks to construction on I-75. There's only been one day in the past eight that I've made a round trip with no problems in either direction; generally there's a backup due to construction-related accidents that affects either southbound or northbound traffic (necessitating a circuitous route through backroads... and if you know Cobb and Cherokee Counties, you know that backroads are never direct, and rarely take you in the direction you want to go without winding in the wrong direction for at least 25% of the time). That probably contributes to the fatigue; when you're spending about three hours on the road in addition to the time at the hospital, it really adds up.

And the hospital itself is an exercise in clinical frustration, no matter how good it is. The nurses in the neurological ward are remarkable, and they try to help as much as they can--but many of the questions we have must be answered by doctors, and it seems that doctors check on patients at hours when they suspect that no one will be there to ask them questions. Today, Kim and I were at the hospital, alone or in tandem, from about 10 a.m. until about 5 p.m., and neither of us ever saw a doctor or a physical therapist. Tests are run, but it's difficult for us to get detailed information about what the tests revealed, since we're not able to see the doctors.

I remarked on Friday that I really felt that we needed to get all the doctors together at one time to get a comprehensive view of what's happening with Dad. Since then, I haven't seen any of Dad's doctors, which is every bit as frustrating as you might imagine.

Tomorrow is my busiest day, since we have to pick up books in my van--and that means that we have to drive almost 100 miles (round trip) to the south side of Atlanta where the FedEx Freight warehouse is located before I can make the 100+ mile round trip to Rome to see how Dad's doing.

Every minute I'm not in Rome with Dad, I feel guilty...

Mixed Messages

Today, when I got to the hospital, Dad was mumbling a few words, including a recognizeable "Hello Dere!" that he and Mom frequently said in a cartoony way as a greeting (I think they borrowed it from a Marty Allen routine, if I remember correctly). At first, I took this as a sign of improvement, but I soon realized that Dad was vocalizing this mumbled phrase in response to almost anything, and sometimes in response to nothing at all. It's as if there are a few words in his mind that occasionally bubble to the surface, and he speaks them at random. "Hello dere." "Okey dokey." "Yeah." "Mmm-hmmm." "Kitty Kitty Kitty." These are the phrases most frequently repeated, generally with no relation to what's being said to him. Because Dad is agreeable, he will say "yeah" or "mmm-hmmm" in agreement to virtually anything he is asked, which gives the impression of positive response until you realize that he's (a) not answering accurately, and (b) saying these phrases at times when there is no question to respond to.

He also will latch onto a word and repeat it ten or fifteen times in a row before drifting off. However, he does not respond to any verbal commands or requests: he will not squeeze your hand when asked, he will not move his arm or feet or fingers when asked... although he will do these things at random times, so we know he's capable of any of them.

Dad's eyes move when we speak, but his pupils are extremely contracted and small, even though his eyes have been closed for most of the time. They don't change size in response to light, nor does he blink at all in response to sudden motion, bright light, etc. I still do not believe that he's seeing anything at all.

We have not seen him swallow in days; even when he coughs, he doesn't follow it up with the normal post-cough swallow. I placed a tiny piece of ice on his tongue to see if he would swallow the water as it melted; he never did.

Tonight, it has been seven days since Dad was taken to the hospital with a stroke; it has been six and a half days since he was able to respond in any coherent, communicative way. He still sleeps a great deal of the time, and he dozes in and out of sleep even when we're speaking to him. I think that, for the most part, he is interacting with a garbled dream world, not with us; I see no increasing sign of awareness or cognizance after all this time.

His cough has responded to intravenous antibiotics, although there is still fluid in his lungs. The issues of blood in the stool and plaque in his carotid artery have not been addressed at all, so I'd like to get more information on both.

For the most part, though, I feel with each passing day that Dad has left us, and I am watching a physical shell that this wonderful man once occupied. I leave the hospital so lonely, even though I'm surrounded by friends and family who want to help. There is no real way to help at a time like this; what we yearn for is that which we cannot have--the return of our father healthy and happy. I miss his voice, I miss our multiple daily phone calls, I miss lunch with him, I miss the chuckled wistfulness he felt when we discussed old times, I miss his telling me about favorite movies...

I am still thankful that I have, in the past year, become closer than ever to Dad. As his body and mind began to trouble him, I am grateful that I was able to step up and help to assuage his worries, to lessen his burden... just as he did for me so many times in my childhood and into my adult years.

I'm still not sure how I was blessed with such a man for a father... nor how I can ever hope to live up to the standard he has set for me...

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Losing a Little More Ground

Today, Dad was weaker, less active, and nonresponsive to words or to the touch of a hand. His fever hovers around 101 to 102, and he has developed a heavy, rattling cough that seems to shake him at times. His nurse, Lisa, assures me that no medication they are giving him should make him nonresponsive, and that's important to know.

I had not realized how much the burden of Alzheimer's had aged and oppressed Dad until someone remarked that he didn't look very different now from the way he had in the past six months... and it's true. I pulled out a photo taken on Christmas Day, and Dad's physical frailty and the weight of his spiritual burdens were so evident in that weary, pained face. Dad seemed to age ten years in the past year alone...

We are still moving towards the decisions involving Dad's living will; the decline seems to make the ultimate decision more inevitable...

Nothing to Fear

A neighbor who has known Dad since 1963, when six families moved into the six newly constructed homes that occupy the small street on which I grew up, expressed to me her fear of death. Speaking as one who was dead for a brief time, I can say with assurance that there is nothing in death to fear. I wish I could say exactly what was there during those six minutes that I was dead, but I can say that when I was brought back, I was pervaded by the most peaceful contentment I have ever felt in my life.

It's not death that should frighten, it's the prospect of what we leave undone and incomplete. All any of us can ask is to be allowed to help those we love, to provide for those who rely on us, and to make the world better for our presence.

One for the Ages

Even in as somber a time as this, there are moments of lightness:

A little background. There is 7 1/2 years difference in mine and my sister's age. I have frequently referred to her as "my older sister" around her friends and mine alike, much to her chagrin; even more dismaying to her is the number of people who don't question it. (If you look at Kim, you'd swear that she was younger than me, oddly enough...)

The hospital restaurant at Floyd Medical Center has adequate cafeteria food, affordably priced--but they also offer a senior citizen's discount. The first time we got some food there, I got some chicken, some fries, and tea; Kim got three or four vegetables, a porkchop, and some tea. Everything rang up, and then suddenly the numbers diminished when the cashier hit this little button that I realized later must have been the senior citizen's discount key. I told Kim that it was because she was with me, which perturbed her to no end... my point exactly!

The next day, we told the story to Cole and Christy, who razzed Kim a while about her senior citizen's discount. Then, an hour or so later, we ended up in the hospital restaurant for something to drink. Kim got in line first, a couple of other people got in line, then Cole, Christy and I got in line. I offered Kim some money to pay for her drink, since I didn't see her purse; I mentioned to the people between us that senior citizens frequently forgot their wallets and purses. Kim glared at me, added a few choice comments, then told them, "He's older than me; he just says this to aggravate me." (Why she persists in these tales, I'll never know...)

By the time she got to the register, all eyes were on her. The cashier rang up her $1 cup of coffee and Kim grinned victoriously...and then, a second later, the cashier hit the Key of Age and Kim's coffee fell in price to fifty cents. Everyone behind her snickered. Me, I had the sanguine expression that comes with preternatural prognosticatory propensities...

To make matters worse, when my turn came, she didn't give me the senior citizen's discount. So I pointed at Kim and said, "I'm with her." The cashier looked, said "Oh--OK," then hit the magic Key of Age once again.

Kim swears that the next time she goes in the restaurant, she's going to yell at them if they give her the senior citizen's discount. Old people sure can be touchy...

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ball of Confusion

I am more confused and frustrated and unsure of what we're doing than ever before.

Every medical person we've talked with prior to today has told us that where Dad was right now was pretty much where he was going to be. The decision was remarkably uniform: Dad had little chance of regaining communication skills, physical or intelluctual functionality, eyesight, or any independence at all.

Today, Dr. Bill Naguszewski tells us that Dad is a good candidate for rehabilitation and that he could "survive." He would not address any issues of quality of life in response to my questions except to throw out the rhetorical "who can measure that but God?" When we told him that the family was considering discontinuing nourishment and hydration as per Dad's living will, he commented that "it's tough for us to play God, since we never know what the outcome will be."

Dr. Naguszewski has requested that we let a peg tube be put in Dad's stomach and that he be given food and hydration for a few days for further measurements. We have agreed to that, but the more I think about my meeting with him, the more confused and unclear I am.

First, Dr. Naguszewski seemed to indicate that he considered physical survival as the measurement of success of treatment; he absolutely refused to address quality of life, adding only that he had seen patients in conditions similar to Dad smile or laugh again before they died. This did not seem to me to truly address one of Dad's vital concerns at all.

He talked about sending Dad home, but he defined "sending him home" as either putting him in a nursing home or hiring a 24-hour sitter to be with him, which he suggested we pay for by getting a reverse mortgage on Dad's house in order to get enough money to pay for four to six months of 24-hour specialized care.

He told us that he wasn't seeing much evidence in the CAT scan that Dad's Alzheimer's was very bad, ignoring first-hand evidence from us regarding the steep decline of his intellectual abilities, the increasing emotionalism, the loss of recognition and memory, the deterioration of his gait and stride, and his alienation from the outside world. Apparently a print-out on the computer screen negated everything that everyone who knew him had witnessed for the past year.

When I asked about the Alzheimer's again, he said, "I can't address that precisely, but it's possible the treatment might help with that as well." He mentioned that Aricept was used to treat both Alzheimer's and strokes, but was imprecise as to what results we might expect--even though other members of the neurology team said that Aricept can't do anything to reverse Alzheimer's complications, only to slow down the continuing decline... and that only worked in some patients.

Never once were other health issues, like the plaque buildup in Dad's carotid or the blood in his stool, addressed.

Nor was any discussion given to the matters of Dad's attitude towards nursing homes, dependent living, leaving and/or losing his house rather than pass it on as a legacy to Cole or Jess... "Some nursing homes are nicer," he said, "and some people are happy there once they adjust," even after we told him how vehemently opposed to nursing home living Dad was, and how he had expressed the opinion that one friend who had a stroke "would have been better off dead."

The more I have thought about our meeting with Dr. Naguszewski, the more I feel that he measures his success by how long the body continues to live. I also have to confess that the nature of his comments regarding "playing God," and the tone, lead me to believe that he does not accept the concept of death with dignity so long as some level of existence can continue. He seemed to feel that one year of dependent living with 24-hour care was worth all the effort, hardship, and pain, since he cited that specific survival period for one patient he was using as an example.

I need to get every member of this medical team in the room at the same time to address these issues together. I am rattled and confused by Dr. Naguszewski's diametically opposed view of Dad's prognosis; can every other doctor have been wrong? I also need to get a second opinion from someone in neurology who is not connected with Dr. Naguszewski.

The one question that hasn't been addressed at all is "What would Dad want?" I am willing to give Dr. Naguszewski a few days to see how Dad does with treatment--but he was never able to paint a picture of the sort of existence that Dad would have accepted were he in a position to say.

Until today, our path seemed clear and I felt comfortable that we were doing the right thing for Dad. Tonight, the path is murky and I fear we might make choices that Dad would never accept were he in a position to tell us again...

Dearest Dad

Kimberly, my sister, asked me to post this for her, since she's having difficulty accessing her own blog right now:

Dearest Dad,

You have given me the things that only a parent can give . . . discipline, structure, knowledge, and unconditional love. You and Mom brought a joy for life and music that infused the world in which I lived and neither of you paled when discussing the life of the 1960s and 1970s and all of the changes that took place. You taught me and you guided me, but you never faulted me for my beliefs. For that I am one of the lucky ones and you served me well.

I made my choices – be they good or bad – and somehow you continued to allow me to be who I was and supported me in spite of my decisions. Because of how you guided and supported me, I am now who I am – strong, compassionate, joyous and desiring to support the community in which I live. And I am eternally grateful for the teachings that you gave to me.

When I see you and Mom, I see her as a strong buffer that kept us all somehow stable from the winds of change; and you supported her in those efforts. You not only guided your family, but you also guided the community. You became a beacon of light that led so many people to their own internal place that was home as well as an interpersonal realm of ‘home’ within their community. You are a true hero; a generous man who never ceased to give of himself –
be it home, neighborhood, or community. You were, and are, a great man and I am honored in so many ways – you are my father, you are our neighborhood, and you are a pillar of our community. I don’t just love you, but I respect you in all of your aspects and I am a better person because of not only who you are but also because of what you have done for our family and how you have pushed the world into a better place.

You are my hero and if I can be only half the person that you are then I know that I have succeeded way beyond the expectations that anyone could achieve.

You have taught me that each day provides an opportunity; a chance to be who you are and to make a difference in the world. You are truly a new day rising and a chance to be all that you can be.

For all that you have done that has changed my life and all that you will continue to do to mold and shape me, thank you from my heart and soul. I will never forget and will always grow because of who you are.

I love you from the bottom of my heart and I cherish you from my soul,


“I, am a new day rising
I’m the brand new sky
To hang stars upon tonight
I, am a little divided
Do I stay or run away
And leave it all behind

It’s times like these you learn to live again
It’s times like these you give and give again
It’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these, time and time again”

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Measuring Greatness

Today, I went by Dad's house to take care of a couple of things. Clyde Boyd, the across-the-street neighbor, came over to bring me Dad's mail and to find out how things were. I told him Dad's condition and what was forthcoming.

Mr. Boyd is a quiet, restrained man, the sort of neighbor who always had a greeting and a wave and a kind word but largely kept to himself and his family. Our family and the Boyds moved in within six months of one another back in 1963 and have been neighbors ever since. As I told him about Dad, I saw his eyes begin to well up; after a moment, his shoulders shook with sobs, and he reached out to hug me--both to comfort me and to share sorrow.

"I've lived near a lot of good people," he said, "but your father is the only great man I've ever had for a neighbor."

Dad has touched so many more people than I would have ever thought...

Kim talked to Burgett Mooney Jr. at the Rome News-Tribune; Dad worked with "Big Burgett," who died a few years ago, as well as with "Little Burgett," who has taken over his father's newspaper and publishing ventures. Burgett was profoundly upset, Kim told me, to hear of Dad's condition. "I'm not going to come see Don-Don like this," he said (I'm not sure the history of the name "Don-Don," but I'm going to find out at some time when all this has been resolved). "I don't think he'd want to... and I don't think I could hold myself together once I saw him."

Bob Cescutti described dad as "a prince." Dad's regal nature was more common than royalty, however; it was a nobility of spirit, not an aristocracy, that defined him.

Inevitable Journeys

I talk to Mom a lot when I walk late at night. After midnight, when it's so dark that people won't automatically dismiss you as disturbed (or discover verification of their suspicions, as the case may be), I tell Mom about what's going on, I ask for her help, I reminisce... the same stuff I did when Mom was still here, except I'm not lucky enough to hear her responses.

Last night, I told her about Dad's journey. It began on July 29th, and I know it will end in the near future. It's a journey I was hoping that Dad could forestall for many more years... but it's also a journey that I know he's been awaiting since Mom left us on December 15th, 2002.  I asked Mom to give him a light to help him see the way, and to be there to welcome him. 

Today, there were a few mumbled words from Dad. When I first got to the hospital, I told him that we had read his living will and that we knew what he wanted us to do. I told him that I understood his final comments. And he squeezed my hand lightly and mumbled "love you." I firmly believe that he understood what I had said to him.

A little later, we had a moment or two in which he responded to us, but the responses soon turned out to be more the repetition of familiar phrases than any sort of genuine conversation. I held up a finger in front of him and said, "Can you see my finger?" He said yes. I asked, "Am I moving my finger?" as I curled and uncurled it; he said yes. I asked "Am I moving my finger now?" as I held it steady; he said yes. 

Later, as Kim and I stood on either side of the bed speaking with him, we noticed that his eyes moved in our direction as one or the other spoke. However, they did not move in response to any visual stimulus at all; there's no doubt now that Dad's not seeing us at all. 

His body continues to fail him. He has lost all swallow reflex; yesterday, he took a lisynopril tablet (a very small pill) with some vanilla pudding. By last night, he could no longer swallow even that. They inserted a feeding tube through his nose, but have not done the peg tube in his abdomen. We told them that they were not to do that unless we gave them permission, and verified that they would withdraw the NG tube if we instructed them to do so, showing them his living well and its specific instructions.

I spoke with Dr. Golden in gastroenterology. Dad's bloody stool is probably symptomatic of either polyps, diverticulitis, or cancer; there's no reason to go further to find out, though, because Dad couldn't survive any sort of treatment for any of those problems. And, as Dr. Golden said, his quality of life is such that there's no reason to cause him any more discomfort. 

Dad still can't sit up. He can't stand. His body has become a wretched prison for the kindest, most generous, most loving, most devoted mind I have ever known. Dad spent his entire life reaching out to help others; he was so generous that he would give away things he needed because he believed that others needed them more. Me, Susan, Kim, Johnny, Cole, Jessica... none of us would have accomplished what we have in life without Dad's support and help. 

There's only one thing we can do to support him, and every family member has agreed with that. We are waiting until we speak with neurology tomorrow to verify what we already know; then we help Dad into the next step of that journey.

Keep that light on, Mom.  It's dark between here and there...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Time for Tears

The neurologists tell us that the damage from Dad's stroke is massive and irrevocable. 

Dad only had three joys left to him. He loved to go out to enjoy a good meal; he loved to spend time talking with me, Susan Kim, Cole, Christy, and Jessica; and he loved watching DVDs on the bedroom TV/DVD combo unit that we gave him for Christmas.

In one of fate's most cruel moments, he suffered a stroke that left him unable to swallow food, requiring a feeding tube for the remainder of his life; his speech center is so damaged that he will not be able to put words together coherently and may not understand what others are saying to him; and he can no longer see. 

Dad was very specific in his living will and his medical power of attorney; should I suffer an injury or illness that leaves me incapable of regaining cognitive skills, he said, I am to be denied all means of life support, including nutrition and hydration.  Should injury or illness make meaningful recovery possible with any meaningful quality of life, I am to be denied all means of life support, including nutrition and hydration.

Today, I have spoken to a variety of friends in search of guidance. As Rabbi Steve said, "you know that your Dad would not want to live like this. You know that you would not want to live like this. You are honoring his life by following his wishes."

"You know what he wants you to do," Jean said to me. "It's the hardest thing, but it's the only right thing to do. He's counting on you now." Jean knows; she faced a similar devastating loss of her own father not too very long ago.

My mother's twin sister, my aunt Jean, also called today. Not knowing the solemn decision we had been weighing, she said to me, "Cliff, I think it's time for you to let your dad go."  And her voice sounded so much like Mom's that it was is mother had reached out through her to make sure I knew what had to be done.

Dad left us on Monday. Nothing we can do will ever bring him back. Nothing we can do will save him a life of misery, a life he would hate unceasingly. I cannot do this; I cannot strip my father of his dignity and his humanity just so that we can hold on to the vessel that once housed this remarkable, generous, kind, loving man.  

On Monday, I wrote about how haunted I was by Dad's statement that he wanted to die; I saw it as a cry of anguish and anger and frustration. Now I realize that I had misinterpreted it; Dad knew that his ability to communicate was ending, and in his last words, in that last glorious, unbridled struggle against the impending solitude borne by that stroke, he wanted us to remember his wishes. It was not a statement of anguish: it was an urgent reminder of what he needed from us.

Oh, how I miss him already. Today, I wanted to call him for advice, and for a brief moment I pressed autodial 2 in order to call his home; I had to laugh at the irony before I cried once again at the enormity of the loss.

For four and a half years, Dad has missed Mom with every fiber of his being while he patiently completed the tasks that he promised to fulfill. When that checklist was done, Dad waited for the opportunity to be reunited with her; that journey of reunion began on Monday, and all we can do is help Dad make the journey with the same placid dignity with which he lived his life.

I love you, Dad. I've told Mom that you're on your way...