How's Your Father?

Occasionally some long lost acquaintance of dad's will come out of the woodwork and ask, "How's your father?"  The politically correct response is, "As well as can be expected, I guess.  He's hanging in there."  This banal reply will usually suffice.  I'm always poised for further inquiry, but no one wants to know more - to be perfectly honest they don't really even want to know that much, but they have to ask.  It's only polite.

How's my father?  He's miserable.  He struggles to do the simplest things.  He can barely form a sentence.  He doesn't know who anyone is and he doesn't remember his past.  He is only truly at ease sitting in his chair in his room, for that is the one space left that he still understands.  There are no surprises there, no perplexing unfamiliar faces, no unusual disorienting surroundings, no mind-taxing stressors. His world is so small.  I could easily make the mistake of thinking I should try to broaden his horizons if I didn't recognize this is the only place he feels safe.  The joy he used to feel on an outing has been replaced by anxiety.

How's my father?  When I tell him I'm his daughter he looks surprised.  When I tell him he has three daughters he looks distressed.  The conversations that used to bring him pleasure now torment him because he knows he should know. Recounting tales of our family's antics once served to jog his memory and make him smile - now those same stories upset him.  I'm not sure he even believes what I'm telling him.  I suppose if I had no memory of an event and someone insisted I was there, I wouldn't believe it either.  He is alternately suspicious, sad and distraught. It's hard to comfort him; I can no longer rely on snippets of history to make him happy.

So, I have adapted.  Instead of spending time trying to coax him back into reality, I now concern myself with cleaning his fingernails and his ears; dismantling and washing his electric shaver; restocking his diaper and toilet paper supply.  When that's done, my mission is no longer to try to engage, it is to placate.  We (meaning I) talk about the weather.  His "outing" consists of being pushed in his wheelchair through the hallways of the building.  It is the same level of interaction I would have if I visited a nursing home and took a complete stranger on a walk.  I am nothing to him.  Therein lies the problem - because he is everything to me.  I'd give anything for just one day - one hour - with him as he used to be: full of life and humor and wit.  Just one hour when I could talk to him and he would know who I am and remember that he once loved me.

Maybe next time I see him I'll get lucky and he'll be better - it comes and goes. Mostly it goes.  I know the time is fast approaching when his mind will be completely gone.  Once he reaches that point, I wonder how much longer his body will continue to function.  Months?  Years?

How's my father?  Languishing.  Has been, is now, and will be until the day he mercifully dies.  Thanks for asking.


Not Forward or Back

If I allow myself to think of her
nothing is bright
What used to be
what could have been
none of it fulfilled

She spent her life trying not to fall
off the edge
Fighting to balance
not forward or back

Too long in that place
Colors faded to grey
Maybes stopped
Somedays stopped

Everything lost
trying not to fall



I had the best dream last night!  I was walking down a marble staircase into a ballroom filled with hundreds of tables.  Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and a full orchestra was playing in the balcony.  Men were dressed in tuxedos; women in beautiful long gowns.  I was walking towards the center of the room when it suddenly occurred to me I wasn't supposed to be there.  This must be some sort of mistake.  Why would I be invited to such a lavish affair?  I felt like an idiot and started to leave; hoping to escape unnoticed before I was forcibly removed like the party-crashing Salahi I obviously was.  At that precise moment, Prince Charles put his hands firmly on my shoulders, turned me around and started guiding me back to the tables.  He was trying to find the place card with my name on it, and we kept walking and walking and walking.  We passed tables filled with entertainers, actors and actresses (both living and dead).  I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what I was doing there.  Had I written a screenplay or something?  No.  I was sure I would have remembered if I'd done anything noteworthy.

I was about to explain to Prince Charles that I had happened upon this fete quite by accident, when much to my amazement, he found my name.  Sitting at my table was Cher, Madonna and Lady Gaga.  Good god.  Why on earth was I here?  Would I be able to bluff my way through the evening?  I started to sit down when I noticed the occupants of the next table: Ricky Gervais, Conan O'Brien, Larry David, Martin Short, David Letterman, and Steve Martin.  There was one empty spot at their table with a place card belonging to someone whose name I didn't recognize.  I quickly swapped that card with my own, and took a seat.  (Not that sitting with Cher, Madonna and Lady Gaga wouldn't have been entertaining, but given my druthers...)  As I sat down I was waiting for these six men to tell me I didn't belong, but for some inexplicable reason they didn't seem to find it the least bit peculiar that I was there.

The night began when the master of ceremonies took the stage.  It was John Boehner - Weeper of the House.  He started to speak and immediately began crying.  It got so bad he had to be removed from the podium, and in his place stepped Johnny Carson.  Johnny Carson!!!   Between Johnny and the men at my table, I was laughing all night long.  I can't ever remember feeling so...  light. (What's really weird is that even though it has been hours since my dream, I can still recall that feeling.  It's hard to put into words.  It was as though everything else just melted away and I had a temporary pass to pure happiness.)  As we were talking and laughing in this grand ballroom, I kept thinking the only thing missing was my dad - my dad from 20 years ago.  (I wish I could have summoned him from my subconscious and put him at the table with us.  He would have been in his glory.)

My newfound friends and I made plans to meet the next day; they were going to help me find a place to live.  (I'm assuming it was Los Angeles.)  I couldn't wait to move someplace warm and make a fresh start; I had something wonderful to look forward to!  We sat there talking until it was time to go; though mostly I was just listening to the conversation and laughing.

I think I woke myself up by laughing out loud.  Seriously!  I don't know if such a thing is actually possible, but I do know I've woken up crying before, so it stands to reason one could wake up laughing.  As I slowly regained my senses, I realized it had all been a dream.  My happiness evaporated as I was thrust unceremoniously back into reality; what a terrible disappointment.  It was only 3:30am so I tried desperately to fall back to sleep in the hope I could continue the dream and recapture the joy I felt - as if that could ever happen.  (I'm here to report it cannot.)

I'm not sure what this dream meant - if in fact dreams are supposed to mean anything at all.  I only know that for those few hours I had the best time!  (I wonder what that translates to in real time - a few minutes?)  I suspect it's probably not a good sign that a fantasy world provides one's happiest moments, but it's better than not having those moments at all, isn't it?  (Well, isn't it?)

P.S.  Where was Camilla?

P.P.S.  I can't explain why I was privy to such a remarkable, joyful, vivid dream. I've been taking a lot of guaifenesin and sudafed lately; maybe that had something to do with it.

P.P.P.S.   I never saw myself.  I wonder what my dress looked like...



Two scoops of raisins my ass.


Blow by Blow

  • 5:20am - Check email for interview offers.  None.
  • 5:25am - Let dogs out. Little one doesn't want to go because it's cold.  Have to push him out the door with the toe of my fuzzy slipper.
  • 5:40am - Can't find my reading glasses anywhere.  I just had them; it's driving me crazy.
  • 5:44am - Find reading glasses on my head.
  • 6:00am - Drop shampoo bottle on my foot in the shower.  Bend down to pick it up and the conditioner bottle falls on my back.  (Note to self: keep bottles on bottom shelf in future.)
  • 6:40am - Take son to school for baseball meeting.  Pick up his friend on the way, which is odd because he has his own car.  When I ask why he's not driving I learn he got a speeding ticket for going 27 mph over the limit.  (Note to self: time to prepare a lengthy diatribe about the privilege and perils of driving - which my son will promptly ignore.)
  • 7:10am - Go to McDonald's drivethru for a large coffee with 2 creams.  In the time it takes to drive from the cashier to the order pickup, I suddenly can't remember how to lower my window.  I keep pushing a switch and it keeps locking and unlocking the car door.  Decide I'll just have to open the door to get my coffee.  Can't get door open - it's locked.  Press switch to unlock car door - we've established at least I know where that mechanism is located.  Get coffee.  (Note to self: should I get tested for the Alzheimer's gene?)
  • 7:15am - A few blocks from home I see an enormous bald eagle swoop down 30 feet away from me and grab a rabbit.  Wingspan appears to be 8 feet across. Stunning, awesome, amazing.  (Note to self: must go outside with dogs from now on and stand next to them while they pee - possibly armed with a broom.)
  • 7:30am - Go online and search 7 employment websites.  Tailor resumes to fit positions and send out 13 applications.  Get automated response from each one: "Thank you.  Because we receive hundreds of replies we don't have time to contact you.  Don't call us, we'll call you."  Not holding my breath.
  • 11:47am - Off to doctor.  Waiting room is packed with people who are undoubtedly carrying a variety of deadly infectious diseases.  Get in line to sign in and watch man in front of me sneeze, blow his nose, then pick up pen.  Dig through purse for my own writing implement.  (Note to self: would it be too Howard Hughesian to wear latex gloves next time I have to go to the doctor?)
  • 11:51am - Finally take a seat.  Simple woman sitting beside me strikes up conversation about kleenex.  I try to appear to be immersed in a 4 month old Sports Illustrated magazine.  It doesn't work - conversation progresses from kleenex to mucous.
  • 1:56pm -  Drop off prescription at Walgreens.  Old man in line in front of me doesn't understand why he can't get his medication.  Turns out he forgot he picked it up yesterday.  He laughs, shakes his head and walks away.  Twenty minutes later while I'm waiting for them to call my name, the old man shows up again and tries to get his prescription.  I wait to see if pharmacist does anything. She doesn't.  I ask the old man if he's with anyone.  No.  He drove himself.  His memory isn't what it used to be.  (No shit.)  I ask if he needs any help.  He looks at me like I might be a serial killer and leaves.  I could follow him to see if he gets home alright (no doubt confirming his serial killer fears); instead I hang out by the door and watch until his car pulls away. Did I wait because I wanted to see if he could drive or did I wait so he'd be long gone before I hit the road?  (Note to self: initiate legislation requiring annual driver's test starting at age 80.)
  • 2:48pm - Son home from school.  He's not wearing his coat, hat, or gloves.  Want to comment on it, but bite my tongue.  No sense starting World War III.  I wonder at what age he'll be smart enough to dress for the weather.  
  • 2:49pm - Ask son if he has much homework.  He grunts and rolls his eyes - his patent response.  Then, my fatal mistake: I ask a second question.  I ask if all the kids from last year's baseball team were at the meeting this morning.  He goes ballistic and screams, "I'm sick of you asking questions!  I'm not going to sit here and go through all the names of the kids at the meeting!!  So don't ask me!!!  It's none of your damn business!!!!  Why the hell do you care??!!!!!"  I know it's a rhetorical question, and I fight the temptation to answer.  Yikes.  I don't know why that set him off.  Seems like everything sets him off these days.  As long as we don't speak to each other everything is just dandy - shades of his father.  It's hard to balance my parental responsibility to demand that he behave like a decent human being against the desire to walk away and avoid escalating the conflict.  What's worse - letting it go, or inciting a riot?  Probably letting it go.  The problem is that somewhere along the way I lost all authority.  I wish he was still a little boy; I could simply pick him up and put him in his room.  He's bigger than I am now, and it is clearly evident that civility and respect are inversely proportionate to height.  If he grows another foot he'll be shooting a high power rifle from a bell tower somewhere.  On the bright side, he's the model of decorum in public, and people regularly comment on what a great kid he is.  Apparently temper tantrums are reserved strictly for mothers.  Come to think of it, I was horrible to my own mother when I was a teenager - in a snotty yet decidedly less volatile way.  Can't help but think she'd be relishing this comeuppance.
  • 3:45pm - Appointment for son's sports physical.  As we walk into the medical building a man and woman are coming out.  The woman is crying.  I imagine all sorts of scenarios.
  • 4:00pm - Spy a Highlights magazine at the doctor's office.  Didn't know it was still around.  Excitedly turn to hidden pictures page.  All the hidden objects have already been circled in red crayon.  Some things never change.  I'm just as pissed about it now as I was when I was seven.
  • 5:43pm - Make dinner.  Dogs are standing under the cutting board hoping something will hit the floor.  It'll never happen; I refuse to let them have people food.  Turn to scrape contents of cutting board into pan, hit the side of the stove with the edge of the board and promptly dump red peppers, onions and garlic on the floor.  Dogs move in for unexpected feast.  I yell.  Dogs back away, albeit momentarily, then creep in for more.  I yell again, dogs scramble and run downstairs.  Don't have anymore peppers.  Used the last of the onion.  Go to freezer and pull out two frozen dinners.
  • 6:30pm - Son reports one of the dogs stinks.  Upon inspection, I find several pieces of garlic embedded in the hair on dog's back.  Put dog in sink for bath. During washing phase she makes a break for it, jumps out of the sink, slides across the countertop and leaps to the floor.  She leaves a trail of water and soap in every room of the house and on every piece of furniture before I catch her.
  • 6:56pm - While in the bathroom using hairdryer on dog, I knock a bottle of makeup onto floor.  Glass shatters everywhere.  Why on earth don't they use plastic bottles?  How absurd.  (Note to self: send scathing letter to all cosmetics manufacturers.)
  • 6:57pm - Gingerly set dog outside bathroom and close door so I can clean up the mess.
  • 7:00pm - Son shouts upstairs to report dog is still wet.  Yes, I know.
  • 7:05pm - Son lets dogs outside.  I start to yell downstairs to explain the eagle situation, but it's too late.  Have visions of dogs being carried away like Toto and the flying monkeys.
  • 7:08pm - Son reports wet dog came inside covered in ice crystals.  You don't say.
  • 7:23pm - Bathroom floor is spotless.
  • 7:30pm - I want to watch the Fran Lebowitz documentary.  Son wants to watch string of mind-numbing "reality" shows ranging from car repossessions, to pet exterminations, to swamp people, to bounty hunters.  We compromise and watch a basketball game and hockey game simultaneously.  It occurs to me I have never seen my son watch a single show without changing the channel.  Is this ADD?  ADHD?  Perfectly normal?
  • 8:00pm - Son suddenly remembers he has homework.  Yeah, right.  I turn off the tv and pandemonium ensues.  What should be nothing more than a minor skirmish becomes a major hullabaloo.  (Note to self: might be a good time to take up drinking heavily every evening from now until son leaves for college.)
  • 9:38pm - Son reports he needs plastic folder for paper due tomorrow.
  • 9:45pm - Leave for Walgreens.  Half expect to run into confused old man trying to pick up the prescription he already picked up.  Don't see his car; probably just missed him.  I arrive 5 minutes before the store closes and when I walk in the door the cashier shoots daggers at me.  Part of me wants to be kind and simply get in and get out; part of me feels the urge to linger and start asking inane questions about various brands of moisturizer.
  • 10:10pm - Deliver folder to son.  Let dogs out.  (Note to self: google "Do eagles hunt at night?")
  • 10:36pm - Start harassing son to get to bed.  Wonder at what age he'll be smart enough to go to sleep when he's tired.
  • 11:31pm - Son is in bed.  Remembers his favorite red shorts are dirty and wants to wear them at basketball practice tomorrow.  Would I mind doing a load of laundry now?  Yes, I'd mind.  "Thanks for nothing."  You're welcome.
  • 11:33pm - Check email for interview offers.  None.
  • 11:38pm - Wash face, brush teeth, and suddenly feel pain in foot.  Stepped squarely on 3" long shard of glass.  As usual, appropriate sized bandage does not exist.  (Note to self: send scathing letter to all bandage manufacturers.)
  • 11:49pm - Clean bathroom floor.  Again.
  • 12:06am - In bed.  Dog jumps up and lies next to me.  Smells like garlic.


In Retrospect

Act I
I'm not sure we really loved each other.  To be perfectly honest, I can't remember. It was simply the natural progression of things - you date, you live together, you marry.  It was expected.  You get used to it - like an old shoe.

He wasn't an intellectual, but he was tall, dark and handsome and occasionally funny.  He liked the things my father liked - hunting and fishing - which for some reason mattered to me back then.  More importantly, he liked me.  Most importantly, he needed me.  And who knows when you're ever going to find that again...

At the time I must have figured it was going to be my only shot... or maybe I just didn't give it enough thought.  The idea that I could ever have expected it to be a long-term self-sustaining relationship boggles my mind when I think of it now.  I spent more time feeling embarrassed than anything else.  It was dull and ordinary and stifling and lonely.  Who to talk to?  Who to share things with?

I offer no excuse for my decision to marry; I expect no sympathy; I knew better. Yet, oddly, when it ended, I wanted to die.  I distinctly remember my shock when I discovered heartache was an actual physical feeling.  I distinctly remember my shock when I discovered I couldn't sleep or eat for weeks on end. I'd always thought that stuff was a bunch of crap written in novels to drive home a point. I didn't know I would lose years of my life to it.  Who knew?

Act II
No more boredom.  No more thinking, "Is this all there is?"  No more feeling like I was destined to spend a lifetime alternately correcting grammar and biting my tongue.  Now it was time for  FUN, FUN, FUN!!!  Laughter, conversation, drugs, debauchery, bars, loud music, parties.  He was bright.  More importantly, he liked me.  Most importantly, he needed me. And who knows when you're ever going to find that again...

He was a drunk and I was going to save him.  I wish I could say I was successful.  I wish I could say my dedication, loyalty and perseverance made a difference.  I wish I had been smart enough to know better.  I distinctly remember my shock when I discovered women really do stay with men who mistreat them.  I'd always thought that stuff was a bunch of crap in made-for-tv movies to show stupid damsels in distress.  I didn't know I would lose years of my life to it.  Who knew?

The antithesis of the tsunami that preceded it.  CALM, CALM, CALM.  Dead calm. Not a tranquil, serene calm; more like a dispassionate, detached, taciturn calm.

But he was bright.  More importantly, he liked me.  Most importantly, he needed me.  And who knows when you're ever going to find that again...

I'm not sure if I disappeared because of postpartum depression or because I lived with a ghost.  Probably a combination of both.  I didn't know I'd lose years of my life to it.  Who knew?  But I got my son out of the deal, so it was worth it.

Act IV
What I've learned:
  1. If you find you dread walking into your own home, it's time to get out.
  2. You can be infinitely happier alone than with someone.
  3. I'm an idiot when it comes to affairs of the heart.  I'm not convinced I've ever even had an affair of the heart.  I suspect it is a storybook myth.
  4. Marriage is entirely unnecessary.
  5. People who need you are a dime a dozen, and being liked and needed is not the basis for a relationship.  Yes, it feels good to be needed, but it is not a measure of love.  If your self-worth is tied up in it you will end up losing who you are and what you want.
  6. Love cannot cure addiction.
  7. The passive part of a passive-aggressive person can be even more devastating than the aggressive part.  Either way it sucks the life right out of you.
  8. The old adage "turn the other cheek" is not always the wisest course.  Once you've been hurt - once hateful words have been spoken and the line has been crossed - the relationship is forever changed.  Whether it's your husband, your boyfriend or your next door neighbor, when someone loses control and you get a momentary glimpse of their true colors it is not an aberration, it is a warning.  I now realize tolerance doesn't necessarily make you a good person (in fact it can make you a chump) and it is wise never to forget.  Not in a bitter take-it-to-your-grave sort of way, but in a sad now-I-know-better-than-to-love-and-trust-you sort of way. 
Is this wisdom or pessimism?  Good question.  I'm going to go with wisdom.

Act V
I'll let you know.


Intelligent Life

Is there intelligent life on other planets?  Probably.  It seems likely that somewhere out in some other solar system there are planets which can sustain life.  Why don't they get in touch with us?  Either they aren't as advanced as we are and aren't yet capable of radio transmission, or they surpassed our level of intelligence long ago and self-destructed just as we're going to do.

I suppose it's possible some life forms managed to build a spaceship before their planet was destroyed, but if that's the case one would assume they're on a mission scouring the universe for the materials they need.  If they find Earth, they'll have to wipe out the human population as quickly as possible in order to preserve what's left.  There's nothing untainted on our planet so they better hurry.  In fact, maybe those aliens have already passed by Earth, assessed the state of our resources, and determined everything was too defiled to use.  Lucky us.


News Flash

The headline reads, "Stephen Hawking: God didn't create the universe."

First of all, is this really news?  Is this a stunning revelation to anyone with an IQ over 50?  What's next?  Is tomorrow's headline going to tell us we can't really rise from the dead?  Be still my heart!  The Bible isn't factual?  Say it ain't so!  The Gospels of the New Testament were stories created 60-125 years after Jesus died by people who weren't there and never met the guy?  Blasphemy!

We will believe what we wish to believe despite knowing better, and we won't let the facts get in the way.  We will believe what we wish to believe because it provides great comfort to those of us who cannot bear the thought of dying.  To this end, the suspension of disbelief serves a self-soothing purpose -- it help us sleep at night; kind of like an infant sucking on a pacifier.  Of course, there's no multi-trillion dollar industry built around worshiping the pacifier, and different pacifier users don't kill each other because they think their pacifier is the only right pacifier, and no one wrote a novel about how the pacifier provides eternal life.  But, hey, other than those minor differences it's pretty much the same thing.


I'm Worried

I'm worried my son won't be able to go to college.

I'm worried my dad may have occasional moments of utter clarity when he's fully cognizant of every single ability he has lost, and that he realizes he no longer has one shred of dignity and despises us for allowing it.

I'm worried my son will be in a car accident.

I'm worried I should be selling my house.

I'm worried Justin Morneau will never play baseball again.

I'm worried that it's not the economy; it's me.

I'm worried I'm going to get Alzheimer's disease.

I'm worried that I live in a country where people like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin have thousands upon thousands of supporters.

I'm worried that I live in a country where people protest building a mosque.

I'm worried that I live in a country where the general population is so ignorant they think Al-Qaeda is synonymous with Islam.  Using that logic, the KKK is synonymous with Christianity.

I'm worried my car is going to quit working.

I'm worried I won't live long enough.

I'm worried I will live too long.



My son's summer baseball season is over.  How it was able to completely consume my life these past months remains a mystery.  Okay, so maybe it's not such a mystery -- lots of practices, lots of games, lots of driving, lots of laundry, lots of last minutes dashes to the store for bottled water and Gatorade, and I had the added pleasure of being the team secretary.  (I'm not kidding; it truly was a pleasure... which probably says a lot more about just how exciting my life really is than I care to disclose.)
Everyone else referred to the job as being the team "manager" which is a laughable misnomer -- a gross exaggeration most likely created decades ago by some poor wannabe sap with an inflated ego.  I managed nothing.  I located fields, looked up directions, chauffeured, collected paperwork, parroted information given to me by the coach, and sent endless boring emails.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess Ron Gardenhire's responsibilities as team manager might be a tad more involved. 

It's not that I wouldn't have liked to have had a role in setting the lineup -- but, strange as it may seem, my opinion was never solicited.  What a shame, too, because the whole world knows a 51-year-old parent sitting in the bleachers is infinitely wiser than the coach when it comes to deciding who will play which position, who will be benched, and who will be the starting pitcher.  Most importantly, it is an oft overlooked fact that a middle-aged mom who appears to know next to nothing about baseball has a much better handle on when it's time to remove a struggling pitcher and put in a reliever.  Don't ask me why; that's just the way it is.  Oh, the games we could have won if only I'd been at the helm!  (Did someone mention a wannabe sap with an inflated ego?)

While it seems perfectly logical to me (and only to me) that I would have been a brilliant consultant sharing my expertise in roster decisions, I'll be the first to admit keeping track of the game was not my strong suit.  (Though I contend I always had a general idea what was going on -- like whether we were winning or losing.  What more do you need?)   Yes, it's true; I seldom knew the score or the inning, but I was not alone.  I missed a game once and sent a text to one of the parents asking for an update.  The reply came back, "Some think it's 4-3, some think it's 5-3, and some think it's 5-2."  Good enough.  I asked what inning they were in, and the response was, "We don't even know the score; do you really expect us to know the inning?" (Had I not been a regular fixture in the brain trust on the bleachers, this ambiguous update might have been a source of consternation.  As it was, I simply took the possible scores and computed the average.  Duh.)

I learned a lot about baseball this season.
- I learned you don't scream, "Nice hit!" to the batter if his ball is caught.
   (Apparently, technically, this does not qualify as a hit.  Who knew???) 
- I learned you don't say, "The score is 3-2," when you're losing.  You're supposed        to give your own team's score first: "The score is 2-3."  Duly noted. 
- I learned people who know baseball find it rather annoying when you cheer for          routine plays, and if someone catches a pop-up it might be viewed as overkill to        give a standing ovation.
- I learned when you have a good group of kids who get along well, you'll find the          parents are equally congenial.  (Which is truly a gift if you've ever been in the            presence of not-so-congenial parents.)
I learned well-maintained fields, permanent bleachers, covered seating, bona fide      bathrooms, real concession stands, and working scoreboards are more likely to          exist in a city with a population of 5400 than a  population of 29,000.  Go figure.
- I learned Mapquest and Google Maps and Yahoo Maps and Rand McNally Maps        all give different directions when you ask for the shortest route between two              points.
- I learned that despite the fact we consider ourselves to be loving parents, we              would be much quicker to pull the trigger on a pitching change than our coach who    had no biological or emotional ties whatsoever.
- I learned that despite the fact we consider ourselves to be loving parents, when        things were working well we were mystified (some might even go so far as to say      aggravated) by the seemingly indiscriminate (and sometimes fatal) substitutions      which were probably done purely out of the kindness of the coach's heart in order    to give everyone an opportunity to play.
- I learned that despite the fact we consider ourselves to be loving parents, we are,      where baseball is concerned, closet cutthroats. 
- I learned on any given day any given team can beat any other given team.
- I learned when called upon to do so, I can outshout the most obnoxious mother          from Mankato.
- I learned a dugout full of 16-year-old boys displaying poor sportsmanship by              attempting to distract our pitcher during his windup, is no match for a bleacher          full of angry mothers defending their young.
- I learned after a month of games you yearn for the end of the season, and when        the end of the season abruptly arrives you yearn for another month of games.

When the season began, no one had any great expectations.  Through a series of unfortunate events, these boys were unceremoniously thrown together at the last minute and not much forethought went into the formation of the team -- it was more the result of who was leftover after the better team was designed.  At that point no one would have guessed the "better" team wouldn't make it to post-season play and our scrappy kids would just keep on winning.  
Our team was one win from going all the way.  One win.  If not for that last game, we'd be playing in the State Tournament next weekend.  It wasn't one of those losses where the other team was a lot better and the writing was on the wall (though, frankly, it would have been more palatable if that were the case).  We had beaten them previously so we knew it could be done, but on that Sunday afternoon it was not to be.  It was one of those heartbreaking games where a couple of uncharacteristic errors led to frustration... which led to foolish errors... which led to that clarifying moment when you're reminded these boys are still just boys, and they allowed themselves to become so demoralized that they shut down with several innings left in the game.  This was not a typical reaction for our team, but after playing seven games in less than 72 hours, they were psychologically spent. They fell behind and felt as though they'd already lost, and like any self-fulfilling prophecy worth its salt, that's exactly what came to pass.

So, we're done -- and it's oddly depressing that we're done.  I felt like an idiot going through baseball withdrawal, but I've since talked to other parents and was relieved to learn it is a universal affliction.   

In the words of my son: "I can't believe it's over.  Just like that.  No more baseball. All those games and suddenly nothing.  I wish the top two teams advanced instead of just the top one.  I wish we could keep playing somewhere -- anywhere."

Me too.  


Gay Marriage

Let me see if I've got this right.  Some heterosexuals want to deny homosexuals the right to marry.  Just out of curiosity, how does this affect them in any way?  What are they afraid of?  What business is it of theirs?  How on earth did the United States of America end up being a country where one group of people needs the approval of another group of people to marry?  We should be ashamed of ourselves. How is this blatant inequality any different than the dark time in our history when women weren't allowed to vote, and whites weren't allowed to marry blacks?   Why does anyone care who anyone else loves and marries?  More importantly, how can it possibly be considered legal under our Constitution and Bill of Rights - which touts equality for all - to prohibit marriage between two consenting adults?

The United States Supreme Court deemed marriage a fundamental right - for prisoners.  That's right; prisoners.  Despite the fact that prisoners have limited rights under the law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is unconstitutional to deny them the fundamental right to marry.  Fundamental right.  Does anyone find it incongruous that a convicted murderer has the fundamental right to marry, and a gay man or woman does not?

I don't get it.


All That Matters

All that matters is love -- the love between a couple; the love between parents and children; the love between siblings; the love of friends.

Sometimes you can actually see love.  You can see it emanating from a single person, or even from a room full of people.  Sometimes when you witness love, you mourn the fact that it's not for you, and that you don't feel it more often.               Sometimes you stop and wonder just how you can get your hands on some love. Sometimes you laugh at yourself for thinking love is something you can get your hands on.  And sometimes you  simply accept the fact that love is elusive and rare, and there is never enough.

What I Learned Today

There are many religions in the world - all born of man's age-old quest to understand why he's here, and his fear of what's going to happen when he dies.  It is important to note, however, the only religion which is actually sanctified by God is Catholicism.  Abraham said so.  (The priest who pointed this out specifically stated Buddhists, Hindus, etc. are out of luck.)

Communion isn't really communion unless it is offered in the Catholic church.  This is because bread and wine are turned into the actual body and blood of Christ via the special connection only Catholic priests have with God.  When communion is offered, only Catholics (The Prepared) are permitted to partake.  If you are "unprepared" but would still like to go forward to the front of the church, you may do so.  However, instead of holding out your hand to receive the bread and wine, you must approach the priest with your arms crossed over your chest indicating you are not worthy of receiving communion.  Apparently it is very important that the Catholics can tell the haves from the have-nots.  (I'm not exactly sure what happens if The Unprepared take communion in a Catholic church.  This was not addressed, but it must be serious.  My guess is instantaneous combustion.)

As best I could tell from my vantage point, the bread and wine is considered magically transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ after the priest finishes swinging a metal lantern gizmo around in the air.  (You'd think it would require a much more intricate, complicated procedure to accomplish this task, but you'd be wrong.)

We should all pray for the Pope.  I'm unclear as to whether we're supposed to pray for him to confess culpability for his role in the cover-up of the sexual abuse of innocent children by priests, or if we're supposed to pray for him to continue to deny the allegations so the Catholic church can save face.  Or perhaps we're simply supposed to pray for his health.  The particulars weren't discussed.  Go figure.

If we attend Catholic mass regularly (preferably daily) we increase our odds of enjoying an afterlife.  God is keeping score.  (They did not belabor the point that this daily attendance couldn't help but contribute directly to the coffers through increased offerings.)

Our dead physical bodies will be reunited with our souls when the second coming of Christ occurs.  (The fact that the physical body would be decomposed by that time was not mentioned, so I'm baffled as to how this reunification process transpires. Perhaps more lantern swinging is involved.)

That's what I learned today.



My 15-year-old dog has been wasting away over the past six months.  She hasn't been feeling well at all.  If she appears to be in pain, I give her medication.  She's getting weaker and weaker.  She is dying a slow death.

My dog has refused food and water for the past three days.  She's very agitated.  I think she'll die soon.

It's been four days since my dog had anything to eat or drink.  She's nothing but skin and bones.  I think she'll probably die today.  I stand over her watching and waiting for her to die.

My dog is still alive.  She is unconscious.  It shouldn't be long now.  I stand over her watching and waiting for her to die.

My dog is still alive.  Her breathing is labored.  Maybe today's the day.  I stand over her watching and waiting for her to die.

My dog is still alive.  She's making strange sounds.  Like she's gulping for air.  How much longer is this going to go on?  I stand over her watching and waiting for her to die.

My dog died today.  Finally.  I stood over her and watched her die.


What?  You think it was cruel to allow her to spend all those months languishing? Then tell me, why is this what we do to human beings?

What?  You think I should have done the humane thing and taken her to the vet to be put to sleep?  Then tell me, why don't we show that same mercy to people?



What do you do when your self-worth is tied to validation from your father, and you no longer have a father?  What do you do when the only person whose opinion ever mattered no longer has an opinion?  What do you do when throughout your entire life the only person who always wanted you around; who always enjoyed your company; who always made you feel worthwhile, is gone?  What do you do when the one person who gave you purpose and made you feel important no longer exists?

Okay.  Stop crying.  Let's deal with this in a professional and unemotional manner:

     1)  I am emotionally retarded.  I should have gotten over this whole father/daughter thing back when I was thirteen years old like every other woman on the planet.

     2)  Let's be realistic.  He wasn't all that great.  (Yes he was.)  He was just a typical run-of-the-mill dad.  (No he wasn't.)  Our relationship wasn't anything special.  (It was extraordinary.)

     3)  Scratch number 2.  That wasn't at all helpful.

     4)  I can't fix this.  I can't power-wash his brain to remove the plaques and tangles that have robbed him of his mind, nurse him back to health, and then stand before him and jubilantly proclaim, "Ta da!!  Hi Dad!  It's ME!"  (Although maybe I should submit that power-washing idea to the Alzheimer's research scientists.)

     5)  I need to mourn this loss and move on.  So it's like I never existed; so what?  I have to get over it.

But how do I get over it?

Clearly, the only sensible thing to do is to turn to drugs and alcohol.  Yep, that would solve everything.   But I'm too old for that crap.  Either too old, or not old enough.  If I was 80 it wouldn't matter; I could happily (or not-so-happily) medicate myself into oblivion.  But I'm 51 and I have too many years left to give up.  Okay, so drugs and alcohol are out.  Now what?

I know!  Since I can't be the best daughter in the world, I'll throw myself into being the mother of all mothers.  I'll be the best damn mother in the history of mankind. I'll be Mother of the Millennium.  That's it!  That's the answer!  I WILL MOTHER MY SON LIKE THERE'S NO TOMORROW.   No.  That's no good.  He'd resent the hell out of me and besides, he'll be off to college in a couple years and then I'll be right back where I started. Okay, so being Madonna is out.  Now what?

Let's see...  I appear to be running out of options...

- Join a convent?
   (Do they have convents for atheists?  Hmm...  No.  Probably not.)

- Become a high-priced call girl?
   (Quit laughing.)

- Find someone else to take care of?
   (Do I really want to keep taking care of people for the rest of my life?)

- Raise puppies?
   (They love you no matter what, but aren't very good conversationalists.                      Besides, hard-core dog people are weird.)

- Stand on a street corner downtown wearing a sandwich board that reads: WON'T      SOMEBODY PLEASE LOVE ME?
   (Note to self: this may be a tad too pathetic.)
   (2nd note to self: this could possibly be used in conjunction with the call girl                option.)

- Move to an ashram in India?
   (Sounds like a lovely escape.  But escaping doesn't really address the issue.)

I give up.  Maybe there is no way to get over it.  The fact of the matter is it's a horrible feeling knowing I'm no longer loved by my father.  It's a horrible feeling knowing I mean nothing to him now, and it's even worse knowing that as far as he's concerned I never did.

It's only his memory of me that's gone, right?  It's not as though when I ceased to exist in his mind I actually ceased to exist, right?  So why does it feel that way?

Is this one of those pivotal moments in life where I'm supposed to have an epiphany and discover validation comes from within?  Where I learn I don't have to rely on others to make me feel like I'm a valuable human being?  Where I embark upon years of intense therapy to FIND MYSELF?  Blah, blah, blah.  Who has time for that nonsense?

All I want is to be loved, admired, needed and desired.  Is that too much to ask?

Of course it is.

Think maybe I'll check into that ashram thing...


cajole- to persuade by flattery or promises; wheedle; coax.

Cajoling is one of my best things.  Got a tense situation?  I can cajole it away.  Angry drunk?  I can cajole him down from the brink of violence.  The silent treatment?  I can cajole him into conversation.  Depressed?  I can cajole him into laughter. Uncomfortable repartee?  I can cajole it into an easy exchange.

I used to look upon my ability to cajole as a gift.  It felt good to be able to diffuse situations; it gave me a sense of accomplishment.  I'd assess the problem and get to work; always wondering why no one else took up the charge.  I'd think, "It doesn't have to be this way.  Isn't anyone going to do anything?  I can fix this."  It never occurred to me that, quite possibly, no one else felt it was worth the effort -  or that maybe this was not a special skill at all, but more an act of desperation born of insecurity.  Why I always felt like it was my job is unclear, but I'm happy to report I eventually realized if cajoling was necessary, perhaps it wasn't a situation I wanted to be in.

I do a lot less cajoling these days.  First and foremost, if you need to do it all the time it is exhausting.  Anything that requires that much work should be avoided. Secondly, cajoling only goes so far.  You cannot cajole someone into being smart, you cannot cajole someone into being sober, and you cannot cajole someone into being present.  Trust me.

Now, I pretty much reserve my cajoling for myself.  I seem to need it a lot lately. But I still like to use it for others on special occasions - I'll admit, I like the challenge. If you ever need to talk someone off a ledge, I'm your man.


I Am Nothing

The relationship I have always cherished most in my life - the relationship with my father - is now non-existent.  He does not know me.  He does not recognize my face. He does not recognize my voice.  He does not recognize my name.  And for the first time ever, no amount of recounting of tales, vivid descriptions, or intimate details of our family life are able to jog his memory.

I am a blank spot to him.  He looks at me almost suspiciously; as if he is wary of this peculiar stranger.  Clearly, I make him uncomfortable.  That's the worst part.  He is wondering, "Who is this woman?  Why is she here? Why is she taking me to lunch? How does she know where to go?  How does she know where I live?   How does she know so much about me?"  I have spent the past five years trying to put him at ease and it has reached the point where I am no longer successful in this endeavor. He is now troubled by my presence.

He made no attempt to lift his fork today; I fed him.  He made no attempt to drink; I brought the glass to his lips.  He could not put words together to speak; I did all the talking.  There was no interaction; I might as well have been speaking Russian. Outwardly, I tried to give the appearance that everything was perfectly normal. Inwardly, I was horrified.  I don't know this man.  I am unaccustomed to this awkward silence.  I am unaccustomed to failing in my attempt to cajole him into himself again.  I want to run away and get the hell out of there, but I can't do that.  I have to stay and ride it out.  I want to scream.  I want to cry.  I want my dad back.

I always felt like I was special to him.  (Whether I really was or not is entirely inconsequential.)  I always felt like I had a privileged connection to the most important man on earth, and being important to the most important man on earth made ME important.  His love and approval meant everything.  My identity was largely defined by this father/daughter relationship; he made me feel worthwhile. Now, all of that is gone.  I mean no more to him than a stranger on the street.  What am I if I don't matter to him anymore?  I am nothing.

If he were dead, I don't think this would be quite so devastating.  But the fact that he is sitting before me - the fact that my living, breathing father looks me in the eye and does not have any memory of me is indescribably painful.  The fact that my father will spend the rest of his life not knowing who I am is crushing.  The fact that my entire life has been effectively erased from his mind is heartbreaking.

I know life goes on.  I know that to lament this loss is futile.  I never expected to be so deeply affected by something I knew full well was coming, but for some reason my armor of Realistic Rational Acceptance - the impenetrable armor that served me so well dealing with Mom's demise - has suddenly failed me.  The same cold, hard logic which once afforded me the luxury of being dispassionate has been rendered useless.  Sadness now permeates every thought.

I know the memories of life with Dad will live on in my mind, but somehow that isn't good enough.  Knowing he doesn't remember any of it makes those memories seem pointless.  It's almost unbearable - as though I have no right to try to find joy in the past when he cannot.  And frankly, knowing my history doesn't exist for him, how could I possibly find joy in it anyway?  

I miss my dad.  I miss him so very much.


Full Sentences

I walked into his room.  He looked at me and said, "You didn't dress very well for going out."

My first thought:  "Wow!  I think he  actually knows who I am and why I'm here!" My second thought: "Holy crap!  My father just uttered a full sentence!!!  I haven't heard a full sentence come out of his mouth in ages!!!"
My third thought:  "Hey, wait a minute!  What do you mean I didn't dress very well?"

(Never mind all that.  For god's sake, he just delivered A FULL SENTENCE!!)

     "Hi Dad.  It's time to go out to lunch at Daytons.  Are you ready?"
     "Yes.  I've been waiting.  Let's go."

We're at lunch.  Ourida stops by and Dad asks her, "Where are you from again?"
    "I'm from Tunisia."
    "That's right.  North Africa."

(Good god!  He remembers she's from a foreign country and he knows where Tunisia is!!!)

Dad brings up Mom all on his own.  "Helen used to love this place."
     "Yes, I know, Dad.  She especially loved the desserts."
     "Too bad she was in such bad health."
     "Yes, Dad.  It was a shame."
     "How old was she when she died?"
     "She was 83."
     "Too bad.  She was a good one.  How old am I?"
     "You're 85."
     "Is my father still alive?"
     "No.  He died a long time ago."
     "Oh.  I don't remember that."
     "Do you believe in an afterlife, Dad?"
     "No.  I suspect it isn't true."
     "Me neither, Dad."
     "But people want to believe it."
     "Yes.  They sure do."
     "When did Dick Bringgold die?"
     "I'm not exactly sure, Dad.  I think it was about 10 years ago."
     "It's too bad he smoked.  You know, I was really upset for a long time when they moved to Arizona."


WOW!  WE JUST GLOSSED OVER THE FACT THAT HE DOESN'T BELIEVE IN THE RELIGIOUS FANTASY!  THIS IS HUGE!!!  THIS IS STUNNING!!!  Or is it? No.  Not really.  I guess if I'd ever bothered to give it any thought (which I didn't) I wouldn't have found it all that surprising for a man of his intellect and pragmatism. I'll admit, I take comfort in this knowledge - I'm glad to know I'm not alone.  Oddly, I find I take greater comfort in not believing than I ever did when I tried to believe. Why is that?  I don't know; maybe because with acceptance comes peace.  As it turns out, it doesn't really matter.  It had no bearing on the way Dad lived his life: being honorable, forthright, loving, generous and kind.  He was a shining example of what is GOOD and it had nothing to do with religion.

Most telling of all, even as he approaches his own death, he is not so fearful of dying that he has bought into the self-soothing notion he will magically live on after he draws his last breath --- the Wishful Thinking Syndrome we humans are so desperate to believe because we can't bear to come to terms with our own mortality.  It scares us - knowing we will cease to exist.  (Though, why that's any scarier than closing our eyes and going to sleep at night is somewhat of a mystery to me.)  While I used to find it strange (even distressing) that people DIDN'T believe, I suddenly find myself thinking it is even stranger that people DO believe in an afterlife.  Our impact on the world occurs while we're alive.  After we're gone we live on in the memories of those who knew us.  After those people are gone, we become just another obscure name on the family tree.  Do we wish we were more meaningful than that?  Of course - we are by nature egocentric.  But are we more meaningful than that?  Only in our own minds.

I realize this is no great revelation - and I suppose it is because we recognize (and are terrified by) our insignificance that we are so smitten with the idea of an afterlife.  No one wants to admit they are so vastly unimportant in the big scheme of things.  No one wants to admit they are limited to such a brief existence in the universe.  I get it.  I understand why the concept (preposterous though it may be) of continuing to live after we've died is very appealing.  I understand why we want to believe we'll be reunited with our loved ones.  I'm not sure why we attempt to ascribe human physical abilities to the dead -- we know better; we know we will never see them or hold them in our arms again, but that doesn't stop us from wishing it was possible.  We throw in words like "spirit" and "faith" and we keep wishing.  But wishing doesn't make it so.  I'm just not buying it.  (And the multi-trillion dollar religion industry can't sell it to me.)


Dad talks about what a good life he has had.  He waxes nostalgic about high school. The only blight in his memory is the war:
     "When I was in the war I couldn't believe what the Japs did to those women and children."
     "Yes.  I've heard it was bad.  There was a movie on T.V. where WWII vets talked about coming back from the Pacific and they had nightmares for many years afterwards."
     "Really?  I never had nightmares."

(Okay.  So I know that's not true, but I am secretly delighted his memory about that horror is completely gone.  At least, it is today.)

     "You know, I was very lucky.  That nurse in Saipan was from North Dakota and she wanted to make sure I was sent home."
     "Yes.  The doctor was on the fence.  He was ready to send me back to my unit, but the nurse wanted to make sure I got sent home."
     "Because she was from Fargo and I was from Williston."


     "I liked being the radio man and the platoon runner.  I got to be in charge somewhat."
     "How were you in charge, Dad?"
     "I got to make little decisions.  I got to have more responsibility."
     "So in between the fighting you were going back and forth between different platoons delivering messages?"
     "Yes.  That and carrying litters.  If we weren't at the front of it we were carrying men to the back."
     "Everyone did that?"
     "Yes.  Sometimes you couldn't get to them for a long time.  And you always thought it could be you next time."
     "Well, I'm glad you survived the war, Dad.  Otherwise we wouldn't be here having this conversation."
He laughs and says, "It was all a matter of luck."
     "I'm glad you were lucky, Dad."

He picks up his fork all on his own.  Stunning!  This hasn't happened in a long, long time.  He temporarily struggles with the option of using his right hand or his left hand.  (Damn teachers in the 30's: forcing left-handed children to use their right hands.  Interesting how 80 years later he is reverting back to his natural tendency.)

He has the fork in his right hand (probably because I placed it on the right side of his plate) and then transfers it to his left hand.  The food falls off.  (As it often does.)
     "That happens to me a lot."
     "Don't worry about it, Dad.  It happens to everyone."
He looks at me... somewhat bemused...  somewhat irritated...  somewhat suspicious... and says, "No it doesn't."

No.  He's right.  It doesn't.

Then, suddenly...  as suddenly as he appeared; he was gone - as though someone flipped a switch.

     "Who are you?"
     "I'm your daughter."
     "Whose daughter?"
     "I'm your daughter."
     "If you say so."

That was the last intelligible sentence of the day.  The rest was the usual gibberish we've grown so accustomed to hearing.

BUT, FOR AN HOUR, I GOT TO SEE MY DAD.  I heard my dad's voice, I saw my dad's smile and I was privy to my dad's wit.  Yes, it was an infinitesimal slice of who he used to be.  But it was so much more than I've seen in a long, long, long time.

I know if he was aware of his decline he wouldn't want to live like this.  I completely understand.  But for a brief moment -- the very briefest of moments --  I saw my father today.  When he sank back into oblivion I wanted to grab him and shake him into reality.  "Wait!!!  Don't go yet!!!!"  It's weird to think oblivion is his new reality. God, how he would have hated it.

But let's ignore all that.  Let's remember the full sentences.  Let's remember the hour, on April 30th, 2010, that  I caught a fleeting glimpse of my father.


April - 65 Years Ago

My dad was a soldier in WWII.  He was a rifleman and platoon runner in the 96th Infantry, 381st Regiment, L Company.  While he was overseas he wrote to Mom regularly - as regularly as he could - and we are fortunate to have all the letters she saved.

Dad artfully managed to avoid describing the atrocities he witnessed (and he wasn't permitted to discuss casualties or his letters would have been censored), but occasionally his words inadvertently revealed the losses they were suffering.  There were 40 men in Dad's platoon in October 1944 when the battle of Leyte began, yet in a letter dated January 4, 1945, he wrote, "Just got some mail in.  Only five letters for 30 men."  They were missing 10 men after 3 months of fighting.

The last letter Mom received from the Philippines was dated March 24, 1945.  The battle of Okinawa began April 1st, but there were no letters from Okinawa.  Mom didn't hear from Dad again until May 21st when he wrote from the hospital.  That letter contained only one sentence about Okinawa:  "It was as bad as hell can possibly be."

On April 29, 1945, the 307th Infantry took over for the 381st Infantry.  By the time it was relieved, the 381st had been reduced to about 40 percent combat efficiency and had suffered 1,021 casualties; 536 of them in the Maeda Escarpment in the previous four days.  Some platoons were down to five or six men.  Many of the men were so exhausted that they did not have the energy to carry their equipment down the slope to the road below where trucks were waiting to take them to the rear.

Decades later, we asked Dad to write his memoir and this was what he shared with us about Okinawa:
         We had easy going for a couple of days, but I was very uncomfortable during that period.  My intuition said, "This is just not right; I have a bad feeling." And sure enough, a couple of days later all hell broke loose.  I am uncertain as to the time frame, but one night when we were receiving artillery fire, I did four hours on watch and then went to sleep.  From that point, I don't know what happened.  Later, in a hospital on Saipan, I saw my medical chart which indicated minor injuries from rocks and other debris, and a severe concussion that left me comatose for several days.
         One of the survivors of our Company later sent me a picture taken just before the battle on Okinawa was over, which showed five men.  This was the remainder of my 40-man platoon.  Of the five surviving at the point the picture was taken, only two were original members, and three were replacements; one of whom was killed before the battle ended.

It's hard to believe that 65 years ago today my father was 7000 miles away from home on an island in the Pacific.  It's hard to imagine him as a 20-year-old soldier carrying a rifle, sitting in a foxhole up to his waist in water and mud while machine guns blasted and shells exploded around him.  It's hard to imagine the things he saw and the fear he felt.  According to the statistics, 12,513 American men died on Okinawa and 38,916 were wounded.  It's hard to comprehend how many boys and men just like my dad didn't come home.

I remember when I was a teenager we drove past the cemetery and I asked Dad if he was going to be buried at Fort Snelling.  He shook his head, no.  When I asked him why, he said, "I'm no hero."

He was wrong about that.


The Life I Don't Have

I live someplace warm.  Not California - they have earthquakes; not Florida - too humid; not Texas - I've never gotten over the Drew Pearson thing (not to mention the whole North Stars debacle); not Colorado - too much snow; not Utah - I find Mormons troubling.  I'm thinking maybe Nevada, Arizona or New Mexico... or perhaps an island in the Caribbean so I can have the ocean.

I have a nice little two bedroom townhouse with walls so thick I can't hear the neighbors.

I have a job I love.  I'm not exactly sure what that job would be, but it would be nice to get paid for doing something I loved.  (Do they pay people to eat ice cream?)

I wake up looking forward to the day.  (Not in an unrealistic, bound-out-of-bed singing show tunes sort of way, but at least not feeling encumbered by sadness, regret and nagging dread.)

I occasionally hang out with good friends.  (Kind of like Sex and the City, only the women are normal.)

My son comes home from college (which is paid for because he earned a full scholarship) on all the holidays and spends his summers with me until he graduates; at which time he finds a high-paying, secure job (with excellent medical and dental benefits, an ironclad pension, and free parking) doing something he enjoys.

My 11-year-old car lasts another 11 years.

I am inexplicably happy.

(Seriously, do they pay people to eat ice cream?)


Impending Doom

You know that feeling you used to get when you were a student and had a project hanging over your head?   It was always in the back of your mind; whether the due date was in three months or three days.  It sat there, festering; the prospect of SOMETHING needing to be done; gnawing away at you even when you weren’t consciously thinking about it.  That ever-present, oppressive, weight-on-your-shoulders, impending doom sort of feeling.

I have that feeling now.  In fact, I’ve had it for years.  I first became aware of it when my mother was dying, so I attributed it to that.  But it didn’t go away after she died.  Now my father is dying.  Maybe it will finally go away after he dies.  I hope so, because the weight of it (whatever IT is) is overwhelming.
To be perfectly honest, I have considered the possibility I may be on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.  While I had intended to keep this revelation a secret, it suddenly dawned on me 99% of the population is on the verge of having a nervous breakdown right along with me.  There must be millions of people who are hanging by a thread; millions of people whose parents are dying; millions of people who are scared; millions of people who are wondering how they’re going to survive the next 30 years; millions of people who lie awake at night worrying about their children’s future.

I’m tired of feeling sad.  I’m tired of being afraid.  I’m tired of thinking about life’s bleak outlook.  Just when it gets to the point of being all-consuming, I step back and take a breath.  I am not willing to succumb to this.  I’m not willing to sink into the abyss of depression – I’ve been there and I have no intention of going back.  I've been able to avoid it for the past five years partly because I am (some might say, perversely) comforted by the knowledge that I'm not alone – no one likes the thought of teetering on the brink in solitude – and partly because I think I've hit upon the solution.  (One which doesn't require therapy or medication.)  It is an astonishingly simple solution, but I have found it to be remarkably effective:
Yep.  That’s it.  Don’t think about it.

I’ve come to the conclusion the only difference between people who are able to keep living their lives and those who become paralyzed at the prospect, is the fine art of denial.  It is denial which keeps me sane.  If I don’t ruminate about it, it won’t suck me in and destroy me.  There's something to be said for those blissfully ignorant souls who look at life through rose-colored glasses and naively think everything's going to work out.  I take back all the nasty things I said about them.

I will deal with whatever today brings me.  I’ll concentrate on what Dad needs and I’ll concentrate on what my son needs.  I have a job to do.  I will do my very best for them and no matter what happens, I will not be reduced to wallowing in a puddle of useless emotion.  I will not give in to sleepless nights worrying about the future and above all, I will not lose myself.  I simply won't think about it.  Denial?  Definitely. Self-preservation?  Unquestionably.

There's something vaguely familiar about all this, and it just occurred to me what it is:
             "Oh, fiddle-de-dee," said Scarlett through her tears.  "I can't think about
              that right now.  If I do, I'll go crazy.  I'll think about that tomorrow.  After
              all, tomorrow is another day."  
This doesn't bode well, does it.   My memory may be a bit hazy, but I think the last we saw of Scarlett, her house burned down, her mother died, her father lost his mind, she no longer had a husband, and she was weeping on a staircase in a dress made out of draperies.

Hmm...  There's something vaguely familiar about all that, too.  Oh well.  At least I've never worn a dress made out of draperies.  


If He Knew

I feel a certain uneasiness whenever I think of how Dad would feel if he realized what has become of him.   If he could see himself he would be appalled.  But even worse, he would be absolutely mortified that we allowed anyone else to see him in this condition.  

I try to push those thoughts aside.  My father – my brilliant, confident, dignified, independent father is long gone.  The man who sits before me now has but a few simple remaining pleasures – like going to church and being surrounded by the very people he would never have wanted to witness his demise.  He doesn't go there for religion; he goes there for socialization – which is quite a stretch considering  no one is comfortable talking to him anymore, and fewer and fewer brave souls bother to make the attempt.

Dad has become the man he would have had no patience for; the man who would have been invisible to him; the man he would have avoided; the man he would have pitied.  He has become the pathetic, feeble, doddering old man with a little bit of dried egg on the corner of his mouth who doesn't realize he's still singing after the song has ended; doesn't realize he's holding up the line; doesn't realize he's interrupting the conversation; doesn't realize he's making inappropriate comments; doesn't realize he's repeating himself over and over and over again; doesn't realize he's not making any sense, and doesn't realize people are politely trying to extricate themselves from his company.  He is the antithesis of the man he used to be.

I am haunted by the knowledge that my fiercely proud father would be profoundly embarrassed, humiliated and disgraced if he was cognizant of his plight.  If he could have, he would have begged us not to let anyone see him like this.  But what are we to do?  Keep him locked away because when he was still himself that's what he'd have wanted?  No.  Of course not.
I try to assuage my guilt by telling myself he doesn't know – and he never will.  But it is of little comfort, because I know.  I know he would hate it with every fiber of his being.   

I’m sorry, Dad.  Please forgive me.       


The Diagnosis

I’d seen reports on the news about people who got lost while driving and ended up hundreds of miles from home.  I’d read stories about people who went for a walk and were found days later wandering in the woods.  Worst of all, I’d heard about the people who no longer recognized their loved ones.  So when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, I girded my loins in anticipation of the devastating day when he would look at me with a blank stare and not know who I was.  That day has come and gone, and believe it or not, it turned out to be a minor event in the big scheme of things.  To be honest, I find it more devastating that he cannot remember how to flip on a light switch.

Dad was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in 2002, however he’d been exhibiting signs for several years prior to his diagnosis.  One of his business partners vividly recalled Dad’s inability to calculate a 20% tip at a luncheon in 1997.  That would be a stunning revelation for anyone, but for a CPA, it was extraordinary

While MCI doesn’t always develop into Alzheimer’s disease, in Dad’s case it did.  We took him to a neurologist and he was put on medication.  According to the National Institute of Health:

Several  prescription drugs are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Treating the symptoms of AD can provide patients with comfort, dignity, and independence for a longer period of time and can encourage and assist their caregivers as well.
It is important to understand that none of these medications stops the disease itself.

Every 6 months we returned to the neurologist for a checkup.  ‘Checkup’ is a bit of a misnomer – it proved to be nothing more than a method of documenting Dad’s decline.  The doctor conducted the Mini-Mental State Examination:

    “I’m going to tell you three words.  I will ask you to remember them later: tree,     blue, pencil.”
    “Who is the president of the United States?”
    “What is today’s date?”
    “What day of the week is it?”
    “What month is it?”
    “What state are we in?”
    “What county are we in?”
    “What were the three words I asked you to remember?”
    “What year is it?”
    “What season is it?”
    “What floor are we on?”
    “Draw a picture of a clock with the hands indicating 10:30.”
    “Spell the word ‘WORLD’ backwards.”
    “Count down from 100 by 7s.”
    “What is this object I’m holding in my hand?”
    “Copy this shape onto that blank piece of paper.”
    “What are the three words I asked you to remember?”   
    “Repeat the following phrase: No ifs, ands, or buts.”
    “Read the sentence written on this piece of paper and do what it says: Close your eyes.”
    “Take this piece of paper in your right hand, fold it in half and lay it on the floor.”
    “Write a complete sentence.”
    “What are the three words I asked you to remember?”

At first Dad could do most of it.  Within five years he couldn’t do any of it and the neurologist advised us there was no point in coming back - that was in 2007.

No point in coming back.     

Nothing more can be done.  We helplessly watch Dad continue to lose ability and function.  We witness his frustration, his struggle and his anxiety – and we are powerless to help him.   It’s an odd sensation; a sickening sensation – like watching someone being tortured to death in a horror movie.

If he becomes too distraught, we could try medication to ease his mind.  (Ease his mind?  Now there’s a politically correct euphemism….)  Let me put that another way: If he becomes too distraught, we could try medication to dope him up so he isn’t aware of his fate.  Unfortunately, medication would increase his risk of falling and it would be awful if he was injured in a fall – though physical pain pales in comparison to the mental anguish he suffers.

So now we wait.  That's it.  That's all there is.  We watch him continue to disappear and we wait for him to die.  Just like Mom.   



Today, I stood on a chair and took down Dad's clock to change the time.
     "Don't fall down."
     "I won't, Dad.  I'll be careful."
     "If you fell down, who would take me to church?"
     "Kris and Karen would take you, but don't worry.  I won't fall down."
     "Kris and Karen?"
     "Your other daughters."
     "I have five daughters."
     "There are three of us.  You have three daughters."
     "I do?"
     "Get down from there.  Don't do danger."
     "I won't do danger, Dad.  I'm just taking down the clock.  See?  Now I'm off the    chair and I'm fine."
     "Don't do that again."
     "Okay, Dad.  I won't."
     "Why did you change the clock?"
     "The time was a little bit off."  (I knew better than to bring up the baffling concept of Daylight Savings Time.)
     "What time is it now?"
     "It's ten to two, Dad."
     "It's ten minutes before two."
     "How can you tell?"
     "Because the big hand is on the 10 and the little hand is on the 2."
     "Hand?  Whose hand?"
     "The long black line is pointing to the 10 and the shorter line is pointing to the 2."
     "How do you know?"
     "Because I'm looking at it and I can see what it says."
     "It doesn't say anything."
     "No.  You're right; it doesn't.  You just have to look at the lines and figure out what time it is."

(I know what you're thinking; he should have a digital clock.  But he forgot how to read digital clocks long before he forgot how to read analog clocks.  I toyed with the idea of showing him the time on my cell phone - thinking that might help - but it would have said 1:50 and that would have really muddied the already murky waters.)

He asked, "How did you get so smart?"  (My god.  He thinks I'm a genius because I can tell time.)
     "Dad, you taught me everything I know."
     "I don't think so.  I never knew about clocks."


When I was leaving for the day, one of the aides stopped by.  Dad pointed to me and said to her, "Do you know who this is?"  She replied, "Yes.  This is your daughter."
He laughed and said, "No, no.  This is .... "   His voice trailed off and he stopped.  He stared at me for a minute and asked, "Who are you?"


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