Friday, June 29, 2007

Plate o' shrimp, vol. 5

I was just skypeing with my friend Brad who works at a company called HB Fuller that make glue, but which I persist in referring to as the Fuller Brush Company because I'm like that.

Immediately after I hung up, my iPod shuffled to a James McMurtry song called "The Fuller Brush Man."

This plate is compounded by the fact that I discovered James McMurtry's music about twenty years ago through Brad's recommendation.

Damned cosmic unconsciousness. Cubed.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Great moments in my history

Thanks everyone for your support and kindness. It helped to read your comments periodically in the midst of my sad few weeks. I'm safely back in the UK, and will resume blogging after I make it through my weekend at school. Unless of course I am compelled to do a jetlag post in the middle of the night tonight.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Planning Funerals

We've been picking out hymns and suits to wear at the visitation and crematory urns for the ashes and cemetery plots with a good view.

My dad passed away at 1 PM on Father's Day.

He'd been in excruciating pain, which progressed as the week went on. By Thursday night we had to up the morphine dose so that he slept all the time, but at least he wasn't writhing in pain. Metastasized bone cancer is an ugly, ugly thing.

On Friday, I spent the day with him. I sat in the comfy chair in his room and read him my Managing Strategic Innovation prep work and case study. I guess I'm assuming it was the morphine that kept him sleeping, but we'll never really know.

On Saturday, my mom and I played scrabble by his bed most of the day. There were some rousing plays, especially since she refused to let me play 'squab' and 'nori' because these were not familiar words to her and we didn't have an official scrabble dictionary handy. I called her a dirty cheater, but then apologized because I knew Dad could hear me and he doesn't like it when we fight over games. My brother arrived in the late afternoon with my nephews, and then I went home to play Monopoly with the boys while Bob watched Hunt for Red October or some insipid Saturday TV with Dad.

On Sunday, Bob went down in the morning and the boys and Mom and I joined him around 1130. We wished Dad a happy Father's Day. I read him an email I'd gotten from my aunt, we kissed him goodbye and told him we'd be back after lunch. He smiled. We were going to Phelps Park with some Subways. We got a call as we were finishing our sandwiches. The home is only five minutes from the park, but he was gone before we got back.

Decorah is a very small town. I've lived in cities all of my adult life. It has been wholly unexpected how the town has responded to Dad's death. We have received tearful phone calls from friends and family. And from co-workers or Rotary colleagues of my father's. Funeral homes don't ask for down payments here. People meet you in cemeteries and let you walk around picking the perfect plot for your loved one. They help you plan a funeral lunch for 300. Friends from high school send flowers and phone calls. People bring food. We're at six pounds of sloppy joes and counting, plus meats and cheeses and crackers and pies and coffee cakes and muffins and all manner of things.

My dad's obituary is here. In a town like this, people will read it and will notice that I am single. A few will comment on the fact that I'm over 40 and single. Some will assume this is sad for me, being alone at a time like this. They're wrong. I am not alone. I have gotten numerous messages of support here, from people who only know me from this space and from people who know what I look like when I sleep. I'm getting emails from friends around the country. Around the world. Who love me and are worried and are thinking of me and my family. I have friends travelling here to see me and give me a shoulder, both before my dad died and now for the funeral. I have people sending tributes and memorials and flowers. My friend Timmy, who is in Spain on vacation, sent a gourmet gift basket via FedEx. (Urban homosexuals with small town roots have excellent social skills AND excellent taste.) I am surrounded by a close knit chosen family AND a close knit biological one, as well. That is a blessing that I hadn't fully appreciated until now.

I will miss my father immensely. He was a kind, caring man of integrity. He loved me unconditionally. He never asked me to be anything other than who I chose to be, even though he might have chosen something else sometimes. He was opinionated. He was smart. He could be grumpy and a bit gruff, and when he told stories they were sometimes horrifically long-winded and a bit dull. He was a Republican. He adored my friends and knew they were taking care of me. He was incredibly proud of me and my brother, and believed we were the best kids a guy could ever have. He was barrel-chested and tall and had a goofy smile that only came out for special occasions. He loved my mother...adored her, actually, and I was almost an adult before I realised that other people's parents fought. My sister-in-law says that my dad is the reason that my brother is such a good father. He loved bridges. He loved to eat, especially fatty and sugary foods that were forbidden by his diabetes. He loved his green leather recliner and watching birds out the window of their TV room. He didn't want to die until he knew that we were going to be fine, and I think he waited until he was sure of that.

I'm pretty damn lucky.

I really loved my dad. And I always will.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


This is the easiest way to update my friends, so I'm putting the info here.

Dad is stable. He's having moments that seem lucid, but mostly he sleeps. The cancer has spread to his brain and this, combined with heavy narcotics, makes him a bit wacky.

We've all perfected a sobbing laugh and have completely lost the ability to keep a thought in our heads. I made a holocaust reference AND a threesome joke at the funeral home when my brother and I were at our preliminary meeting last week. The former was in reference to 24 hour crematoriums ("How German of them,") the latter to the number of cremated people you can fit in a cemetery plot (my brother asked how many people fit in a plot, the funeral director said two but occasionally three, and I said that instances of three must be nontraditional relationships or Mormons.) Neither were particularly funny. They just came out. My brother opted not to make jokes, but instead asked questions about whether you can actually buy a pine box, furnish your own, or bury an unembalmed body in the backyard. I guess you cope however you can.

Since he is in a nursing home facility that offers hospice, as well, we are surrounded by dementia patients. The only bed available was a shared room, and dad's roommate is a brilliant man who hasn't been able to communicate or interact for about five years. He has a wet/raspy lung condition that makes us wince and he makes some of the smelliest poos you've ever had the misfortune of being near. They get him up and out of the room most of the day so we can be undisturbed. The roommate sits in a chair most of the day with his mouth hanging open and a blank stare. Very very sad. We were happy yesterday, though, when we passed him in the common room. It looked like he had a girlfriend...she was sitting in exactly the same pose and their arms were touching. We like to think that he felt some sort of companionship.

There's another guy down the hall who doesn't like to use the nurse call button, so he yells "help, help, help!" in this low-pitched monotone when he wants something. I was passing his door about 11pm one night and he said, "Hey you! You better turn on my light!" I felt privileged that he was so specific.

And periodically you hear, "Code Red, Front Door" echo from the loudspeaker when someone is trying to make a break for it. It's been hot and sunny all week, so it is increasing in frequency. I don't blame them. It's lovely outside.

Tom flew in for the weekend. He made appletinis and margaritas and took good care of my mom. And me. Darlene drove down and was an immense support. Others who've offered: I'll let you know if I need company, and I really appreciate it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


I'm catching a flight home in the morning. They're moving Dad to a hospice tomorrow, which means "nursing home" in a small town like my folks'. I'll be there by Thursday AM, and I'm hoping he's still pretty lucid and that I can have some quality time with him.

The lucky thing about hospice is it never lasts very long. How's that for a horrific statement. I'm learning that times like these make all sorts of improbably awful statements seem reasonable.

I know that most people outlive their parents so this is a common thing. I want to think it's like childbirth. That the next month is the really painful part, and that eventually you forget the pain and remember the good stuff. But almost as bad as the sorrow I'm feeling right now is watching the phantom pain I see when I talk to other people who've gone through this. You can tell who they are. Everyone shows a look of compassion. But people who've done this are, for just a second, a mirror, reliving their own loss for a fleeting moment before they envelop you in a hug. I love them for their kindness and support. And I'm wishing I didn't have to become one of them.

Monday, June 04, 2007


Sorry for my absence.

My dad's in the hospital. Only those who know me in real life know that he has advanced-stage prostate cancer and has been having chemo since early January. The side effects have been significant, and now they've checked him in to run some tests and to help control his pain.

I'm waiting for a phone call from my brother to tell me if I need to get on a plane now, if I need to cancel my international study tour to Cuba on Sunday so I can be within easy reach, or if things aren't nearly as bad as they seem right now.

I've got a big vocabulary. But I can't seem to find words that adequately express how profoundly awful this is. I'll be back when I have something else to say.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Blame it on The Jungle Book

I'd never actually figured it out before, but the other day it clicked when I was listening to the Talking Heads. I really like music that has a funky, interesting bass.

I thought it was just that I like bass players, but actually it is the music they play that makes me happy. It is the common thread amid my varied music collection...the reason rockabilly/bluegrass and seventies funk make a two-headed lovechild in my schizophrenic iPod, the reason Walk This Way is one of my favourite songs and that I think Lovely Day is the best Bill Withers song. The reason we can forgive Paul McCartney for Ebony and Ivory. Why I have three versions of I Wanna Be Just Like You in my music collection.

Tina Weymouth...the way, the truth, the light. Bill Wyman, now I know why I think the Stones broke up in 1993. Mark Rubin, you can ride a standup like nobody even if you are a sexy tattooed chunk of a man. Flea, I'll even put up with Anthony Kiedis for you.

I need to develop a playlist of the best basslines ever. Help me out.