Thursday, November 29, 2018

Illinois State Symbols

The other night while watching the news, we saw a story about a woman living on the south side of Chicago who plants milkweed in her front yard for the Monarch Butterfly, to aid its migration from Mexico up through the US and back again.  Our "septuagenarian"neighbor, Chester, has done the same thing.  But Chester is a whole other blog unto himself.  More on him later.

And then I remembered as a 6th grader, I sent a letter to Governor (of my home state) of Maryland, Blair Lee III, requesting the Monarch Butterfly be adopted as the State Insect (this was during a class lesson on State Government).  My classmates and I chose the Monarch because of its coloring - orange and black just like the State Bird, the Baltimore Oriole.  A few weeks after mailing the letter, I received a response from the Governor thanking me and my classmates for our interest, but noting that the State of Maryland already had a State Insect: the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly.  The letter came addressed to me at my elementary school.  In those days, that was a BIG deal - on par with getting your picture or name in the newspaper.

So then I got to wondering about state symbols and learned that the Monarch Butterfly is actually the State Insect for (my new state of) Illinois.  Coincidental, I thought, but Chester probably already knows this.  But learning this was not as surprising as finding out the other state symbols for The Land of Lincoln (our State Slogan).  We can start with the popular ones:
State Capital:  Springfield
State Motto:  State Sovereignty, National Union
State Nickname:  The Prairie State
State Song:  "Illinois" (not sure I've ever heard this)
State Tree:  White Oak
State Flower:  Violet
State Bird:  Northern Cardinal
Along with these, we also have a State Flag, a State Seal, and a State Language (English).  However, we also have a few other state symbols that may be a tad more shall-we-say obscure:

State Amphibian: Eastern Tiger Salamander
Illinois designated the eastern tiger salamander as the official state amphibian in 2005. An election was held on the Internet in 2004; the students and citizens of Illinois chose the eastern tiger salamander over the other two candidates (gray tree frog and American toad). Eastern tiger salamanders are the largest amphibian found in Illinois and live throughout the state.

State Fish:  Bluegill
The Bluegill was designated the official state fish of Illinois in 1986, selected by the school children of the state.  A member of the sunfish family, Bluegill are found throughout Illinois.  They grow to about 9 inches and weigh about 12 ounces.

State Fruit: Goldrush Apple
Illinois designated goldrush apples as the official state fruit in 2008.  Mark Richardson's fourth-grade class of Woodlawn Elementary School initiated this legislation after learning that Illinois was one of the few states that did not recognize a state fruit. After doing research and discovering the part played by the University of Illinois in developing the goldrush apple, they contacted Senator John Jones, who was the primary sponsor of the bill. Goldrush apples are a cross of golden delicious and an experimental variety of apple developed by the disease-resistant apple breeding program of the University of Illinois, Purdue University, and Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Sidenote:  Since Illinois has a state fruit, we must also have a state vegetable right?  And that would be sweet corn, so chosen based on the preponderance of corn grown throughout Illinois.  Which naturally brings me to...

State Snack Food:  Popcorn
No real surprise here, but Illinois designated popcorn as the official state snack food in 2003.  There are 333 farms in Illinois that grow popcorn on 47,000 acres​. Corn is native to the Americas, probably first cultivated in Mexico about 5,000 years ago; native Americans started growing corn in Illinois about 100 A.D. Second and third-grade students at Cunningham Elementary School in Joliet proposed popcorn as the state snack food. State Senator Larry Walsh sponsored the bill.

State Folk Dance: Square Dance
Illinois designated the square dance as the official state American Folk Dance in 1990. Twenty-two states have declared the square dance as an official state symbol, and more than thirty bills have been introduced at the federal level proposing the square dance as the national (folk) dance of the United States.

State Reptile: Painted Turtle
Illinois designated the painted turtle as the official state reptile in 2005 (also the reptile symbol of Michigan). An election for favorite state reptile was conducted on the Internet in 2004 (other candidates considered were the Eastern Box Turtle and the common Garter Snake). The citizens of Illinois elected the painted turtle, one of the most widespread and abundant turtle species in the US and Canada. 

State Tartan:  Illinois Saint Andrew Society Tartan
The Illinois Saint Andrew Society tartan was designated the official tartan of the state of Illinois in 2012.  According to Chicago Scots; "The Governors chose a field of blue and white, representing the flag of Scotland. White was also reminiscent of the Illinois State flag's background. Green was incorporated for its representation of the Scottish homeland and a touch of red was a nod to the red, white and blue of the United States flag. Finally, a strand of gold for its association with the eagle on the Illinois State flag."

State Pet:  Shelter Dogs and Cats
Illinois designated "shelter dogs and shelter cats that are residing in or have been adopted from a shelter or rescue facility in this State" as the official state pet of the state of Illinois (effective August 25, 2017).  It seems Illinois couldn't pass a State budget but we had no trouble deciding on what our State Pet should be.  And in doing so, Illinois joins four other states recognizing rescued and shelter pets as official symbols (California, Tennessee, Colorado, and Georgia). 

State Pie: Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin pie was designated as the official state pie of Illinois in 2015.  According to the Chicago Tribune; "State Representative Keith Sommer of Morton sponsored the legislation as a tribute to how  much pumpkin is produced in Illinois. About 85 percent of consumed pumpkin in the U.S. comes from Illinois."

And there are several others, like our State Prairie Grass (Big Bluestem), State Soil (Drummer Soil), State Mineral (Fluorite), State Fossil (Tully Monster), State Exercise (Cycling), and even our State Artifact (a Pirogue, a canoe made from hollowing out a tree trunk).

Now as unnecessary as all this sounds, these are only the symbols for Illinois.  There are different states that have other legally-adopted emblems that they believe are necessary to help them self-identify; items that they feel represent their great state in a way that nothing else can.  For example, an official State Boat (Maryland), a State Caricature Artist (Texas), a State Gun (Kentucky), a State Cantata (Connecticut), and my personal favourite, a State Cooking Pot (Utah, 'cause nothing says Mormon like a Dutch Oven), to name just a few.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

My White Privilege

Race relations and racial inequality are all over the news today; in fact, it's rare when a newscast doesn't include at least one report of racial violence, especially in Chicago.  Right now, the city is tense awaiting the finished trial and verdict for white city police officer Jason Van Dyke, accused of murdering black teenager, Laquan McDonald in 2014.  Van Dyke has been indicted on 16 counts of aggravated battery (1 for every shot he fired), six counts of first-degree murder and one count of official misconduct.

Shortly before 10:00 p.m., police were called to investigate McDonald at 4100 South 
Pulaski Road (in the westside neighborhood of Archer Heights) responding to reports that he was carrying a knife and breaking into vehicles in a trucking yard at 41st Street and Kildare Avenue. When officers confronted McDonald, he used a knife with a 3-inch blade to slice the tire on a patrol vehicle and damage its windshield. McDonald walked away from police after numerous verbal instructions from officers to drop the knife, at which point responding officers requested Taser backup.

Video of the shooting shows that Van Dyke was advancing on McDonald, while McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke when the first shot was fired. The first shot hit McDonald, who spun and fell to the ground. As McDonald lay on the ground, still holding the knife, Van Dyke fired more shots into him. In total, Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times in 14–15 seconds, expending the maximum capacity of his 9mm semi-automatic firearm. Van Dyke was on the scene for less than 30 seconds before opening fire and began shooting approximately six seconds after exiting his car. The first responding officer said that he did not see the need to use force, and none of the at least eight other officers on the scene fired their weapons.
The eventual verdict of this trial has the same measured intensity as the OJ Simpson verdict back in October 1995.  A return of "not-guilty" for Van Dyke will certainly put Chicago into chaos.  I would expect the National Guard, which has long been rumored to be coming to Chicago to assist with our gun crisis, will finally show up in anticipation of riots, looting and other violent activity.  However, a "guilty" verdict may be the atonement for a metropolitan police force that has largely gone unchecked on their behavior until now.  Chicago has a long history of white police officers targeting young black men who may/may not have committed crimes, but are murdered in the street by police before they can even make it to trial.  

It's as if Chicago is two different cities: the white northside, and the south and west sides made up of mostly people of color.

With this in mind, hear my story:

A few mornings ago, I was driving home from the gym.  It was about 7am and Western Avenue was particularly busy, which made turning left off of Western onto any street very tricky.  Just like in most towns and cities in American, Chicago drivers do not understand the concept of "don't block the box" - otherwise known as don't block the intersection. After waiting through 3 cycles of red-green-red-green-red-green, I took a chance and turned on a red light just to make the turn.  And right on cue, an undercover police car flips its lights on behind me.

My first thought was, "Well, shit!"

My second thought was "I haven't been pulled over since 1991."

My third thought was, "My driver's license is sitting on my desk at home."

To avoid going to the gym locker room and possibly forgetting them, I leave my license and credit cards at home in the morning when I go to the gym.  All I really need is the fob that allows me access to the parking lot and the gym itself.  My gym is 5 city blocks from the house.  It's definitely walkable, but not at 5am.  So I drive.

I pulled over and the two white officers approached my door: 

"Yeah", the one started, "that was a red light back there."  I apologized and tried to explain how I had sat through several light changes unable to turn due to traffic.  He asked for my license and I admitted that I did not have it on me.
"That's okay," he said, "what's your name?"  I answered.
"And this car will come back registered to you?" To me and my husband, I answered.
"Okay, do you have insurance on the car?" Yes but I can't find the ID card.
"That's okay, who do you have insurance with?"  Geico
"Okay, I'm just gonna let you off with a warning.  You have a good day."  
Then the officer walked back to his car.  He had taken me at my word that I was who I said I was and that the car was mine.  He didn't run a background check on me of any kind.  And I couldn't help but think to myself, "it's good to be white."

So there are lots of things at play here:
1)  I was driving without my license on me
2)  I could not provide proof of insurance
3)  The proof I did give was erroneous; our car insurance is with State Farm, not Geico.
4)  I outed myself to a police officer.
Believe me when I tell you that black people in Chicago have been killed by police for far less than this - in fact committing just one of these offenses can get you shot on the south and west sides.  African American males who get pulled over call it "driving while black".

In many respects, I count myself a fortunate person:  I'm healthy, educated, have a nice home, great friends, close family ties, and am married to my best friend - all things that I have had a hand in cultivating in my life. However that morning, the only thing I was grateful for was the one thing I had no control over: the color of my skin.  I could say I was lucky that morning.

But I shouldn't have to.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Year Without Dad

One year ago today, July 22, 2017, Dad passed away from complications associated with dementia.  We believe he died peacefully in his sleep after all of his visitors had gone home for the night.  He had turned 78 years old 29 days earlier.

Today also marked the final day of "Firsts".  For the past year, we (especially Mom) have been ticking off the days and how they related to July 22nd.  It's difficult to not be a little maudlin about it all.  I guess when someone close to you dies, you have to go through your year of "first _____ without" before the real healing begins.  First wedding anniversary without him, first Thanksgiving without him, first Christmas, New Year's, Super Bowl, Opening Day of baseball, NASCAR season, etc. And on June 23rd last month, Dad's 79th birthday, the first one he missed.

I went home the weekend before Dad's birthday to be with Mom on her birthday (my parents' birthdays are a week apart) and it wasn't easy to celebrate her 75 years.  We all got together and it was nice, but it wasn't the same.  And it's really strange because for the last 4 or 5 years of Dad's life, he wasn't around for these celebrations anyway, being unable to leave the nursing home.  But at least he was around.

Through all these events, it felt weird to not go shopping for a card or find some wacky gift online to send, or to even call Dad on the phone just to say hello.  I would compare the feeling to being single on Valentine's Day.  But while it's easy to remember the feeling of being alone when the rest of the world seems to be paired up, it doesn't compare to the overwhelming sense of loss from the definite absence of a particular person who you will never see again. Being alone on Valentine's Day feels annoying, but not having your Dad on Fathers' Day feels hollow.

But all that is in the past now.  A full year has gone by, and along with it all the markers we had ridiculously set up to help mark the passage of time.  Starting today, we just go on living without keeping track of anything anymore. 

But the memories will never go away.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Farewell Facebook

Yesterday, after threatening to do so for months, I finally disabled my Facebook account. 

I stuck with it as long as I could, but eventually I just couldn't take it anymore.  The fake news, the unsubstantiated rhetoric, the click bait, and the conservative propaganda made me long for the days of when people posted actual life updates, pictures of the food they were about to consume, and photos of kittens hanging from tree branches.  I stayed on it so that my family and friends who do not live in Chicago, and even a few friends who do, could stay updated on my life and what Kevin and I are doing.  But most of them are connected to Kevin now anyway, and he will share stories and photos with me when those we love have life events.

Back in March, I took 5 weeks away from Facebook just to see how it would go.  And I didn't miss it at all.  Of course I missed the real updates from friends, but they were hard to find amidst all the crap that filled my newsfeed.  I tried in vain to us block content, but to no avail.  So after a few more months of dealing with it, I decided to just disable my account with hopes that eventually Facebook will do what they keep saying they will and return their product to what it was before foreign countries began using it for political gain.

Back in February 2014, I noticed some of my friends were starting to leave Facebook.  Same thing happened again en masse back in April this year when 87 million Facebook users had their personal and private information compromised.

Time on Facebook has cost me dearly.  I can't begin to think of the number of minutes/hours/days/weeks I spent cumulatively just aimlessly scrolling through my newsfeed looking for nothing in particular.  While I don't consider it a waste of time, I do have to wonder if that time would have been better spent spending time with friends or reaching out and calling them for updates rather than relying on a website to keep me updated.

Things I have posted have cause problems with friends, just like some of the things they post have caused me to rethink friendships.  The one that bothers me the most was the deterioration of my relationship with my best friend, Jeff.  And now that he is dead, I will never get those estranged years back again.  Please take a lesson from this.

I used Facebook to help promote this blog, so my readership will most likely go way down.  But that's okay.  I write mostly for me anyway.  But I do hope to return to Facebook someday.  I hope they get their stuff straightened out, for their sake and the sakes of all those who don't realize the lies they read every day.


Sunday, May 06, 2018


Last week while on vacation, I received a text from my friend Jeffrey letting me know that Carl had died suddenly following a seizure of some kind.

Carl was a Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab mix.  He was rescued by my friends Jeffrey and Michael, who were also the parents of Tucker, whom I also watched for several years when we all lived in DC the same time.  After moving to NYC, and Tucker had passed, a friend reached out to them to tell them about Carl.  At the time, they weren't sure they wanted to adopt another dog.  Tucker had been the love of their lives and the freshness of his passing was still looming large with them.  But the friend was apparently persuasive enough, and sooner than planned they adopted Carl.

Carl had been living on the streets somewhere in the Carolinas, eating pigeons and anything else he could get his paws on.  He was very thin when he moved to NYC, but within a few months of a completely changed lifestyle, he had put on a good bit of weight and much needed fur.  The guys quickly fell in love with Carl, but then so did anyone Carl ever met.

Despite how he had been living, Carl was the gentlest soul I had ever met.  I was fortunate that Jeffrey and Michael would invite me to NYC to watch Carl, just like I had watched Tucker previously.  Kevin joined me the first time we met Carl.  The guys were out and left a key with their doorman.  Kevin and I spent a few minutes fumbling with the keys in the lock, unable to get the door open. We figured the guys must be taking Carl for a walk since we didn't hear any noise from inside the apartment while we played with the lock.  After several minutes, we figured it out and opened the door to find Carl, just laying towards the door, front legs crossed, tail wagging, not making a sound - apparently entertained by our buffoonery.  He slowly stood up and crossed the floor to greet us.  For me, it was love at first sight.

During my first walk with Carl, it didn't take long to realize that he was the unofficial mayor of East Greenwich Village/SoHo.  It didn't take long for Carl to establish himself and make friends in his neighborhood.  He had a walking path that he preferred and you just kind of loose-leashed him and let him lead the way.  He knew where to go, where he would get a treat or a belly rub.  Everyone knew Carl.  I'd walk him down the street and people would ask, "Is that Carl?" and as soon as I said yes, their demeanor changed and they greeted him the way you greet an old friend.  And Carl's tail would just constantly wag.

It was as if Carl realized how good his life was compared to what it had been.  He seemed grateful for the friendships and for the life he had, going from living on the streets to being flown in private jets from one home in LA to another in NYC.  I believe he knew he had it good; he had the best temperament of any dog I've ever met.

Along with Jeffrey and Michael, I imagine the entire neighborhood is feeling Carl's loss these days.  It was as if people were just waiting to see him, or that he had the power to improve their day just by walking by them.  Even here in Chicago, I can sense him gone.

I have to laugh a bit when I think of Carl and Tucker meeting up in wherever dogs' souls go when they die.  If you really believe that all dogs go to heaven, then I am imagining the two of them comparing notes on everyone they mutually knew - which is hilarious in thought because Tucker and Carl couldn't have been more different from each other.  Tucker was as eternal puppy, always a little needy, a bit  mischievous, disobedient, and impatient.  Carl was just the opposite: an easy going old soul, steady and stable, and would stand on a street corner for hours just waiting for you to take the first step.

And so the universe claims yet another kind, tender soul from my life, one that I was lucky the universe brought to me in the first place..  I wish him peace and send my condolences to Jeffrey and Michael, who plucked Carl from an uncertain future and showed him how to love - which he spent the rest of his life giving back to everyone else. 

R.I.P., my sweet friend.

Friday, April 27, 2018

So Now It's ...VERTIGO, Part 2

So after several hours of just sitting and waiting, with the world still spinning around me in all directions, I was finally placed in an ER exam room.  By this time it was 7PM and I had not eaten since noon so I asked the nurse when I could have food and water.  She said I'd be going for a CT scan within the next few minutes so we could address that when I was done.

I had the CT scan which showed nothing:  no stroke, no brain tumor, no brain disease.  Great news!  But the doctors weren't satisfied, so they ordered an MRI.  By this time, it was 8PM on Saturday, April 7th.  They told me it would take a few hours to set up the MRI.

Sound cue: needle scratching across a record

"A few HOURS?  That will put me past midnight!"  So it didn't look like I would be going home that night.  They didn't admit me, so I guess I was just being "kept?

I phoned Kevin and told him not to expect me and not to come visit me.  The orders were that I couldn't eat or drink before the MRI and I was already in a bad mood from being dizzy and nauseous so I told him to stay home and I'd call him when I was done.

And then I waited.

As anyone who has been admitted or, in my case kept, at a hospital, you know you don't get any rest.  Between alarms going off, patients screaming, and the nursing staff congregating at the nursing station like its the student center at a college, the noises alone prevent you from getting any kind of rest.  Add to that the very physical fact that the room is spinning, my eyes are flitting back and forth, my head feels like a giant hand is trying to push me into the ground.  Mix in the fact that my mouth was arid and my stomach was grumbling and I may have been the least pleasant person to be around in Chicago that night.

Because at 12:00 midnight, I still had not gone for the MRI, I still hadn't eaten or had anything to drink, I still had no idea how long I would be there, I had no clue what was wrong with me, and it was now Sunday, April 8th - my birthday.  On my 52nd birthday, I was almost exactly where I was 52 years before:  in a hospital, barely clothed, wrapped in hospital wear, unable to walk and see straight, and with an empty stomach.

But this time - I was not one bit happy about it.

By 4AM, I had HAD it.  I called the nurse and told her to take out my IV, I was going home.  I told them I would schedule my own MRI someplace and send them the results, but that waiting 13 hours for a test was ridiculous.  She said she needed to get the doctor.  Fine, I say.  A few minutes later, the doctor came in and wanted the details, which I methodically laid out for her.  She agreed that the CT scan was clear but that the MRI would tell them more.  She believed I would have mine around 8AM.  Nope, I said.  I'm outta here.  But she played her little ER mind games on me.  And when she offered to go to Subway and get me something to eat, I caved completely.  She came back 15 minutes later with a sub, chips, and a birthday cupcake.  I ate it all and by 4:30AM, I passed out.

At 6:30AM, they took me for the MRI.  I completely passed out during the procedure.  It was the easiest test I had taken so far.  The problem now was that I needed to wait for a doctor to read the results which, they estimated, would be around noon.

Sound cue:  needle scratching across a record.

Apparently, it takes 6 hours or so for someone to read the results and disseminate the information to the patient.  So now, just more waiting.  I ate breakfast and just as I finished, Kevin walked into the room -- a true sight for sore eyes.  He wished me a happy birthday and suggested we delay celebrating it for a few weeks, to which I agreed.  I updated him on the situation.

A few hours later, the nursing staff came into my room with lunch.  They sang "Happy Birthday" to me and sympathized with my being stuck in the hospital on my birthday.  I even got a piece of apple pie with a little decoration on top.  I mean, they tried.  And it did make me feel a little better.

Around noon, the doctor finally came in to let me know that they had ruled out a stroke, ruled out a brain tumor, but noticed some severe blockage in my left sinuses.

Sound cue:  needle scratching across a record.

Left sinuses?  The sinuses on which I had three surgeries, the last one being almost exactly one year ago? Those sinuses?  YAAASSSS Queen, THOSE sinuses.  So they suggested I make an appointment with an otoneurologist soon and see my ENT about the sinus infection.  So here we go again.

I was discharged soon after and Kevin took me home.  The rest of my birthday was quiet, just him and me watching TV in the living room.  Perhaps we will celebrate it sometime later, but frankly turning 52 doesn't really mean anything to me.  But he has a big birthday coming up next month, so more to follow on that.

And this story continues as well... 

Sound cue:  sad trombone.

Monday, April 23, 2018

So Now It's . . . VERTIGO

On the morning of Wednesday, April 4th, I was sitting in a conference room at work attending a weekly leadership meeting.  At one point in the middle of the meeting, I turned my head to the right to look out the window and the room began to spin.  It was quite a sudden and jarring action.  When I turned my head back to face the room, the spinning continued.

I shook my head quickly and hard-blinked several times in a futile attempt to realign whatever had been messed up.  But that only served to make the room spin even more.  I'm not diabetic, but I wondered if my glucose levels were off and my sugar was dropping.  So I stood from my chair in an attempt to walk to the corner of the conference room where we always have a ridiculous arrangement of treats and candy, and I immediately thought I was going to fall over.  I grabbed a few pieces of chocolates and woofed them down but nothing seemed to change.  Whether, I sat, stood, or walked, I felt like I was on a shaky merry-go-round, like I was being pushed back and forth and side to side at the same time.

I walked past the candy and excused myself from the room to go to the men's room, which happens to be, of course, down the other end of the hall.  I looked like a pinball bouncing off both walls as I stumbled down.  I looked in the mirror and from what I could tell I looked completely normal.  I could speak, I had used of my appendages, I was cognitive so I figured I wasn't having a stroke.  But no matter what I did, my world seemed to be spinning and shaking uncontrollably.

I managed to walk back to my office and sit down, and as word spread that I was walking like I was still celebrating St. Patrick's Day, my co-workers quickly deduced that I had been stricken with vertigo - something I have never before experienced in my life.  I sat paralyzed, unable to function in any capacity.  My boss, who actually suffers from occasional vertigo, walked me to the local CVS Minute Clinic for diagnosis and treatment.  The diagnosis:  vertigo.  The treatment: meclizine.

Sound cue:  needle scratching across a record

Turns out I can't take meclizine because it negatively interacts with a drug I already take.  Alternative treatment?  A rub on the shoulder and the advice to see my regular doctor, who squeezed me into his schedule the following day.  I've been with my doctor for 13 years now, ever since moving to Chicago in 2005.  He was recommended by a friend and it was the best advice I've ever taken.  He put me on an antibiotic, a steroid, and told me to visit my ENT - the good one who successfully fixed my sinuses last year, not the bad one who said all my problems were dental.  Ugh, don't get me started.

So I made an appointment with my ENT for the following week.  But by Saturday afternoon (two days of being on the antibiotic), I was feeling worse, not better.  I couldn't raise my head to look up because it made me nauseous.  I had to hold on to every surface in order to move anywhere.  I had to lean against walls to walk.  I felt best when I was laying flat on the bed, just still.  But even with my eyes closed, if I moved my head even ever-so-slightly I could still feel the world spinning.  So on Saturday I posted on Facebook that I wasn't feeling any better and my doctor (who is Friends with me) ordered me to the ER for imaging.

So I had Kevin drop me off at the ER.  I knew I would probably be awhile and didn't want him just sitting and looking at me, so I sent him home and told him I'd call him later with an update.  I was put through triage pretty quickly and then I sat in a wheelchair while I waited for an exam room to open.  I sat in the wheelchair for 4 hours.

Sound cue:  needle scratching across a record

That's right, 4 hours of just sitting and waiting to be put someplace.  No tests were done, no blood was drawn, no one offered me water or anything.  I just sat in a waiting room alone.  Occasionally someone would pop her head in to apologize and tell me it would just be a little bit longer, but that was all the "care" I got for that amount of time.  I played 86 games of solitaire on my phone.

So like my heart surgery and my sinus surgery, I will be writing about my vertigo in installments.  Perhaps I should rename this blog, "View from my Hospital Bed".

Next up:  A CT scan and an MRI for my birthday

Monday, April 02, 2018

My Month Away From Facebook

On February 25th, I logged on to Facebook and posted the following:
Dear Friends - I just can't take it anymore. I'm staying off of Facebook for the entire month of March. It's doing nothing but infuriating me on a daily basis and causing me to rethink connections with some friends and certain family members. 
Facebook has become too polarizing for me and I don't like how i feel when I am on it. You can still reach me through Messenger (sending a message to me through Facebook), but I won't be posting or reading your posts for a while.

I actually started my month hiatus early.  The posting on the 25th of February was the last time I logged in to Facebook (except for a hot second on March 16th to promote a blog I had written for work) until Sunday, April 1st, when I posted the following:  

I'm ba-aack, but not for long. This is the first time in 5 weeks I have logged in to Facebook and I can tell you I haven't missed it one bit. I actually feel less stress. Over the course of the next week or so, I will be whittling my Friends List down to about 50 people. Those not on the list will still be able to send me messages through the Messenger App, email or of course by text. 
So for most of you, this is the last you'll be seeing of me on FB. Out of sight will not mean out of mind, quite the opposite. Now that I won't be seeing where you're going, what you're doing or even what you are about to eat, I hope it will spur me to reach out and actually speak to you. And vice versa. 
I am now reminded of a song about friendship: 
I guess this is good-bye old pal, you've been a perfect friend,
Don't want to see us part old pal, someday I'll buy you back
I'll see you soon again
I hope that when I do.
It won't be on a plate.

That last part is from the Stephen Sondheim musical, "Into The Woods".  It's sung by Jack, from the beanstalk fame.  He's singing it to his best friend whom he just sold for some magic beans.  The best friend was a cow.

To say that 34 days off of Facebook allowed me to be more productive would be a half-truth.  I am certain there is truth in that statement, but I have nothing to measure it against.  I was able to get a lot done both at home and at work, but I didn't have anything to compare it to.  So even through I say I was MORE productive, I have no proof of that.

I also can't say that I felt less stress in that month because both work and home life had their fair share of stressful situations.  Between being still new in my job and Kevin and I selling our old loft condo, not to mention the normal day-to-day demands on our time and energy, I have not necessarily felt less stressed out.  However I can say that I have felt less stress when it comes to our president and the current state of our Union - mostly because I am ignorant to what is going on in the world beyond my front door.  

In past days, I would wonder why someone would choose to be ignorant and irresponsible by not knowing what was going on in the world.  But today, I completely understand the NEED or DESIRE to be less in-the-know.

That all said, I still find Facebook a valuable way for me to stay in touch with a few close friends and my immediate family.  So while I have not missed spending hours on the site, I have missed being updated on what they are doing, as well as being unable to be contacted by them. So I will remain on Facebook, for now, but with a much-limited list of friends or contacts.  It will be less about who I like most, and more about who I share memories and pictures with most often.  THOSE folks will be the ones who remain.

And fortunately because I am staying on Facebook, even in a limited capacity, I am still accessible through Facebook Messenger (through the site directly and the app), so everyone else can still reach me that way too.  Again - nothing personal folks.  My decision will be based on who I share with regularly.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Backpacks On Public Transit

So I'm taking public transportation to work again.  And I'm sorry to report that not much has changed: people still crowd near the doors, young people still don't give up their seats for their elders, and the person on crutches is still not seen by people sitting in the seats marked for the mobility-challenged because they are too busy looking down at their phones.  And my biggest pet peeve has remained in full bloom: people are still NOT removing their backpacks or large purses and holding them at their sides.

It's mind-numbing that this still happens in 2018.

This morning, while sitting on my ride to work, I got smacked in the face by a backpack that easily doubled the girth of the young man wearing it.  Making us better friends was the fact that he didn't bother to apologize.  And our love was sealed when he didn't respond to my asking him to remove the backpack and hold it at his side.  He looked at me, then back down at his phone.  Nothing.  Yeah - we're best buds now.

People, apparently, are not born with an innate sense of spacial awareness.  This special ability is mostly attuned by people with larger builds who've either been made to feel self-conscious or try to shrink as much as possible in crowded situations.  Likewise, people who use wheelchairs have to immediately assess where they can fit or at least hope people move so that they can access the specifically designated areas for them.  Otherwise, the rest of the world is unaware that they may be encroaching on someone else's personal space.

All too soon, Chicagoans will put away their North Face winter coats and whipped out their North Face jackets and spring fleeces which will thankfully diminish everyone's girth, even if ever so slightly.  But the backpacks and large purses will still be worn by the clueless.  I guess I'll just have to get used to getting hit in the head with said backpacks and shoulder bags because this is apparently how it goes; it's what we do in Chicago.  Like going to the lake, and not putting ketchup on hot dogs. and "dibs". In the 23 years I've been riding subways and buses, it's never changed.

And really, why should I have expected that?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bad Neighbors

The sidewalk in front of West House
on our block.  Ugh.
If there is any semblance of justice in the afterlife, Hell is 10 degrees hotter for those people who simply refuse to shovel the snow from the sidewalk in front of their residence(s). Because the only 2 reasons for neither doing it nor having it done are 1) laziness and/or 2) a complete lack of respect for your neighbors.

On either side of our adorable and well-maintained house are neighbors who live in variant degrees of negligence when it comes to the upkeep of their premises.  Neither neighbor lives on their actual property:  The house to the east (heretofore "East House") is a rental property with two units.  It was renovated all last summer and tenants moved into it in September.  The house to the west (heretofore "West House") is in transition from being single family to being two rental units, just like East House.  Sadly, West House is about 90% completed with its renovation, and that's where it's been since we moved in three years ago.  Since March 2015, the same bottle of Windex has sat in a window in West House without moving.  No work has been done in or on the house since we moved in next door.

While admittedly it was somewhat nice NOT having neighbors, the City of Chicago is still very clear when it comes to maintaining your property, specifically mowing the lawns in the summer and removing the snow in the winter. 

For grass that need mowing:  Any person who owns or controls property within the city must cut or otherwise control all weeds on such property so that the average height of such weeds does not exceed ten inches. Any person who violates this subsection shall be subject to a fine of not less than $600 nor more than $1,200. Each day that such violation continues shall be considered a separate offense to which a separate fine shall apply.  

And for sidewalks that need shoveling, a City of Chicagordinance makes it crystal clear that property owners are required by law to remove snow seven days a week: For daytime snowfall, sidewalks must be cleared by 10 p.m., and for nighttime snowfall, it must be removed by 10 a.m. at the latest.  Violations during both summer and winter are to be reported to your Ward Alderman.

The owner of East House has been very responsive to my requests to maintain his property once I presented my concerns.  While that house sat empty for the first two years of our living here, I mowed the grass on the parkway and kept the snow shoveled on the public sidewalk - mostly because we didn't know who actually owned the building.  The owner rents the house to tenants and now employs a service to maintain the sidewalks and lawn for the house.  But still, now and then, I need to call him because the service doesn't show up according the to regulations listed above.  But it's mostly taken care of within hours.

The neighbor for West House is a different story.  And I could easily write an entire blog about my interactions with him, and will probably do so.  We've been in a few verbal altercations.  It's a hoot.  But I digress...

Lovely, isn't it?  I am going to covertly throw
down wildflower seeds in the spring.
He's completely unresponsive when I call him to complain, so then I call the Alderman's office who then, in turn, fines him and gives him a deadline to bring his property up to snuff.  Within hours of receiving the fines and notices, he shows up.  But instead of mowing the grass in the summer, for example, he pulls it all up by the roots so that the entire yard is nothing but a giant dirt pile (see picture to the left).  In the last three winters, he's never showed up to shovel the public sidewalk or the sidewalk and stairs that lead into his house.  Looking at the property, it's glaringly obvious that no one lives there and looks, for all intents and purposes, to be abandoned.  Which it is, for the most part.

So for the 4th or 5th time this winter, it has snowed here in Chicago.  Which mean I've had to call the Alderman as many times to complain about my neighbor not doing his civic duty.  I don't know if he pays the actual fines, but according to Chester, our self-described "octogenarian pre-Stonewall 'mo" who lives on the OTHER side of West House, the neighbor is a piece of bad news who owes back taxes on more than one property in Chicago.  (Chester has lived in this neighborhood since the '60s and once operated a bookstore in the building in which he currently lives.  Chester knows.) 

The saga continues...

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017: The Worst Year Of My Life

It is generally this time of year when people look back across the past 12 months to take inventory of either how good or how bad the year was in retrospect.  And I can honestly say that 2017 will go down in the books as one of the worst years - if not THE worst year - of my life.

The bad news hit me on all levels - personal, professional, emotional.  It affected my family, Kevin's family, my self-esteem and self-worth, and my future as well as the future of everyone in our country.  I guess if the setbacks have to come, they should all come at once.  2017 did not disappoint.

On a personal level, I experienced a great loss:  my father passed away in July, finally yet quickly succumbing to his 7+ year battle with Alzheimer's.  His death has left a noticeable hole in our lives that we all still struggle to fill.  And while his absence at family gatherings was something we had grown used to while he lived in the nursing home, it's all the more obvious now.  And while I rarely called home just to talk to Dad, I at least always knew he was there if I wanted to do so.  Dad was not a "phone talker".  He would answer the phone and then put Mom on, yet sat down next to her to listen to the conversation and interject his opinions.  And the more time passes, the more I realize that I very much have my Dad's personality:  overtly gregarious and onerous when we were younger but becoming taciturn introverts as we aged.  I will continue to miss him for the rest of my life.

Also in July, my best friend since the early 90's died suddenly of a heart attack after suffering from an undiagnosed illness.  Jeff was 55.  We met in a bar the summer of 1989 and I decided that night that he was going to be my new best friend.  And he was for the next 20+ years.  We drifted apart over the last few years but the memories I shared with him are countless and still fill me with laughter.

Back in February, Mom's older sister, Mary Lou, passed away.  The following month, Kevin's cousin Riley died after a courageous battle with cancer.  And earlier this month, I lost my last grandparent:  my mother-in-law's mother, Grandma Davis.  She died about a week or so after suffering a heart attack at the age of 95.  All my biological grandparents were dead by 1987, when I was 21 years old.  And I thought my days of having a grandparent were over at that point.  But then Kevin came along and brought all 4 of his grandparents with him to the relationship.  Grandpa Byrne passed away before I got the chance to meet him, but I did meet Grandad Davis a few months before he died.  I remember Harry was impressed with my size, comparing me to the Olympic weightlifters that were on TV that summer of 2008.  Grandma Byrne had come to Chicago to visit us and labeled herself "Grandma of the Future" when she created her own Facebook account.  She was accepting and loving and deeply committed to her faith, as you expect any Irish Catholic grandmother to be.  But Grandma Davis and I spent the most amount of time together.  And she made no bones about the fact that she loved me and accepted me as her grandchild.  The collective absence of these 4 people, which was completely unexpected at this point in my life, fills me with a warmth that can only come from having grandparents.  And looking back, how lucky was I to have so many of them throughout my lifetime.

At some point earlier in the year, I made a comment to Kevin that I wanted to start attending more funerals.  That statement became a bit of a punchline, but my reason for saying it was that I more often would just send a card or flowers when I heard of someone's passing, but the more meaningful thing to do was show up and offer support and a hug to the person(s) who suffered the loss.  It's the more mature, meaningful thing to do.  I certainly didn't say it because I like attending funerals, but for all the ones I ended up attending this year (several friends lost parents as well this year) it made me feel like a better person for doing so.

Add on to this the political climate we are all experiencing.  We can all see how our government is corrupt and how our country is being led by a childish, Barnumesque demagogue who proudly boasts of sexually molesting women and preys on the concerns and feeds the fears of under-educated, myopic rural Americans.  He has given permission for people to overtly express their hatred for one another while sullying the most esteemed and powerful position in the world.  His actions and inactions will ripple through the American tapestry for years to come.  And I expect the worst is still yet to come.  He will continue to amass his own wealth while somehow convincing a portion of the population that he cares about them and is doing everything for them.  This is all going to end very badly.

And while all this was going on, I suffered through two traumatic medical situations.  In April, I had my third sinus surgery to correct the mistakes made by the physician who conducted my first two surgeries in 2016.  The final outcome was great, but for the first 4 months of 2017, my health suffered.  Also during this time, I underwent extensive dental work, hoping to fix some of the sinus issue.  It was an extremely emotional time for me.  I was quite shocked at the level and amount of emotion I connected with my teeth.  Both of these processes are well-documented on my blog, but suffice is to say that they contributed in a large part to my emotional unrest at the beginning of the year.

The only saving grace through all of this, the only reason I remained as strong as I did over the last 12 months, is that my best friend was by my side through all of it.  He made all of it bearable.  How lucky that he married me 3 years ago?

But for as bad as all these events were, there was still some light this year.  Our family grew with the addition of two great-nephews, one being born just a few days ago.  We traveled with family and got to spend more time with them.  I experienced Disney with children.  I stood inside the Coliseum.  I walked Roman cobblestone streets in Pompeii.  I climbed stairs in the Sagrada Familia.  I journeyed into a cave in Slovenia.  I walked through the gate of Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg.  I ate pizza in Zagreb and goulash in  Budapest.  I drank a a few pints and snorted mentholated tobacco at Oktoberfest.  I stood in the parking lot where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated.  I visited Gays, IL.

I've always been a person who relies on his calendar.  I've kept personal calendars every year for the past 35 years.  I know everyone's birthday off the top of my head.  I've consulted my calendar for start dates to projects, jobs, and diets.  I can look back at any point in the past 3+ decades and know where I was and what I was doing on any given day.  So this upcoming transition from 2017 to 2018 will be a very big deal for me.  I am looking forward to ending this horrible year and remaining open to the possibility that 2018 will bring more happiness and personal fulfillment.  Very recent events in my life are already pointing to such.

So a happy farewell to 2017, the likes of which I hope never to see again.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Literal Sh*t Storm

It's been a while since I have posted anything here.  That is perhaps both a good thing and a bad thing.  Good, because it means that my life is uneventful and that nothing special is happening except the normal stuff.  And bad, I guess, for exactly the same reasons.  We did recently take a two-week trip to Europe, but (amazing as it was) that trip was well-documented on Facebook so I didn't see the need to rehash it on here.  And our Hallowe'en was pretty spectacular.  Between Kevin's house-decorating getting national exposure and our costumes basically killing it once again, it was another successful holiday in the books.  See for yourself:

Heat Miser and Snow Miser from "The Year Without A Santa Claus"

So life has been usual and normal.  Until last week.

It was Thursday morning.  I was taking the morning to go to the gym, come home clean the house,  and do some laundry and shopping in preparation of family visiting the following day through the weekend.  But before starting all these endeavors, I needed to take the morning "pit stop".  So I put some laundry in the washing machine and started it up, and then for some undetermined reason, I chose to use the bathroom on our main floor rather than our renovated master bathroom on the ground floor.

So I am sitting there, playing the daily game of solitaire on my phone when I heard a loud, ominous,  gurgling noise in the pipes.  I looked around quizzically. wondering what I had just heard.  And then I heard the noise again, louder this time.  A felt a wave of heat rush up my neck and into my head.  Suddenly, I felt a spray of water from underneath me while, at the same time, I'll-call-it "stuff" started flying out of the bathtub drain in the shower.  I was so overcome with shock I didn't know what to do next.  The gurgle started again so I jumped up and closed the toilet lid, only to witness another round of stuff volcanically spewing out of the tub drain. 

It was like a scene from a horror movie.

Note: I'm calling it "stuff", but I mean water and excrement.  That's right - poop was flying out of my tub.  Actual poop.  Not just dirty water, my friends.  It was like someone hooked up a hose to a Port-O-Potty and let 'er rip up through the bathtub drain.  It spasmed out of the tub drain and flew up the shower walls, some even hitting the ceiling.  And because the shower curtain was pulled open to let light in through the glass brick window, the "stuff" flew all over the bathroom - on the walls, up the window, and on the tile floor getting down into the grout.

I quickly cleaned myself up and rain downstairs to turn off the water main (which had nothing to do with anything, but I didn't know what else to do) and shut off the washing machine.  I cautiously looked in the master bathroom and was somewhat placated to find that it looked completely normal; nothing had happened there.  However, some pipes were leaking on the floor so I started pulling up carpet tiles in order to stop the leak(s) from spreading.  Shutting down the washer seemed to fix this problem.

I immediately texted our plumber, Matt, with whom we developed a friendly relationship last summer during our main bathroom renovation.  Within 1 minute, Matt called me on the phone to tell me he'd be right over. 

To speed up the story, I'll jump to the several hours later after Matt had deduced what had happened:

A blockage had formed someplace in the sewer outside of our house.  Because we had installed a pump system under the master bathroom due to its being below grade, the pump kept the master bathroom dry.  The pump collects all waste water used in the house.  Once the water reached a certain level, the system pumps the water up through the pipes and out to the sewer line with one huge gush.  On this occasion, the pump was filling quickly due to my doing laundry, so the pump kept pumping the water up and out.  But since there was a blockage, the only place for the waste water to go, then, was out of the pipes in the other bathroom - the one I was using.

Matt The Plumber ended up pulling up the toilet in the bathroom and snaking a pump down the drain to blow out the blockage, which he assured me was not caused by us.  Our pipes, according to him, were clean.  So I was at least appeased to learn that this was not our fault.  So about 4 hours after arriving, Matt left and I began the worst task I've ever had to take on:  cleaning it all up.

Here, I will admit that I lost count of the number of times I dry-heaved and/or gagged through the next few hours of my day.  Because it had been several hours between when this occurred and when I could clean it up, most of it had dried.  So when I re-hydrated it by cleaning it up, the smell seemed to intensify.  I was literally wiping shit off the walls, ceiling, window, soap, shampoo bottles, and floor.  I had to scrub the tile and the grout with a toothbrush.  I took down the shower curtains and washed them with the towels and rugs.  And even after scrubbing the bathroom, the smell still lingered - perhaps trapped inside my nose for the unforseeable future.  Later I bought a few bouquets of flowers and baked cookies in my attempt to rid the house of the smell.  Kevin said he could still smell it "a little" when he came home from work that evening.  But fortunately, the odor had dissipated before the visiting family arrived the next day.

I'm already squeamish when it comes to excrement and bathroom functions.  I am an admitted prude in that I can't even fart in front of another person.  Without doing a deep-dive into my psychoses, let's just say that, for me, bathroom stuff is very private, always has been.  So the fact that I had to spend so much time cleaning up what might not have even been my own excrement on my bathroom walls and floor . . . well it was a lot for me to handle.  And while I was cleaning, I couldn't help but consider all the "what if's":

What if I had simply turned on the washer and then left the house for the gym, which was my original plan before needing the "pit stop"?

What if I had chosen to use the other bathroom instead and left the house out the backdoor instead of coming up to the main level?  Then what if I had come back home, entered the back door, put in more laundry and jumped in the shower before ever going up to the main floor?

What if I had not been home all day and the mess would have grown, spread and possibly flooded our main floor? 

What if we didn't have such a great relationship with a plumber and I couldn't get anyone here to fix the problem for a day or more?

I've accepted that if this situation HAD to occur, it occurred at the right time and that I was in the right place despite how uncomfortable it all was.  I literally lived through one of my nightmares.  If rats had come up through the drain as well, all of my fears would have been faced at the same time.

I guess I should be thankful.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

And There He'll Wait

I think of him about the same as I did before - no more, no less.  I guess I expected that I would think of him a lot more.  But it seems to be about the same amount.  Now and then, just like before, he will pop into my head.  And now and then, unlike before, I have to stop and remind myself that he is no longer here.  But that doesn't cause me to think about him more.

It does, however, cause me to feel his absence, which I find interesting since I have been living apart from him for the past 22 years, seeing him for 3 and 4 days at a time, a few times a year.  It's not like I was used to being around him all the time or that I saw him once a week or even once a month.  But now, somehow, I definitely feel his absence from my life.  Perhaps it's the realized finality of knowing I won't see him - his physical self - again every time I go home.  He'll still be a priority, but the sense of urgency to see him is gone.  Now, he patiently waits for me to show up.  It's unfortunate that a human life that you know and love eventually becomes just a name on a piece of granite in a field surrounded by other names on other pieces of granite.  But here he will wait quietly and patiently, forever.  And eventually, so will she.  Just waiting for me every time I go home.

As for being home, I was there recently.  I made a solo trip to the cemetery and was not prepared for my reaction.  It was my first visit since the funeral back in July.  It was early in the morning; there was still some fog in the air.  The cemetery is a peaceful place on top of a hill in a town on top of a mountain.  I parked the car and walked to his plot.  And the closer I got the more overwhelmed I became.

Back in July, we had placed a decorative marker on his plot while we waited for the tombstone to be put in place.  Had we not done this, he would literally be laying in an unmarked grave.  And perhaps it was the site of this marker that got to me.  The plot next to him displays a rather large tombstone, there beside his little marker.  I knew his tombstone would come in time, but for a second - a very quick second - he seemed insignificant.  And that killed me inside because he is anything but.

Since then, his tombstone has been set in place.  Seeing it, even in a photo, makes it all too real; makes it official, I guess.  This will be my life from now on.  I used to visit him in his home, then in a nursing home, and from now on it will be here:

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Troutman Family Bible

Tomorrow, Saturday, August 26th, will mark my parents' 56th wedding anniversary.  They were just about one month shy of actually making it to this date together. Tomorrow, Mom will experience this day without Dad for the first time.  When I wrote THIS blog post last year, little did I know it would be the last one they would celebrate together.  It could be a tough day for Mom - the first celebratory event without him around.  All too soon, Thanksgiving will be here, then Christmas - two days I'm sure she is not looking forward to getting through.  But get through it, she will.  As have all of her sisters before her.  But the first event, especially a wedding anniversary, is a tough blow.

Unless it was a very private thing between them, I don't recall my parents making too much of a big deal about their anniversary.  Perhaps you don't when you have so many of them, one following another year after year.  That's not really who my parents are.  They didn't fuss over themselves, opting instead to fuss over others.  That fact didn't stop me from being the dutiful son, however.  I still sent cards and well wishes, even gift cards to restaurants so they actually would go out to dinner and celebrate.

August 6, 1981
20th Anniversary
I remember the first real gift we gave Mom and Dad for their anniversary.  It was in 1981, their 20th.  My sister, Kim, and I pulled and saved our money to buy them a family bible that we had seen in Matthew's Hallmark in LaVale Plaza shopping center (Kim was 18; I was 15).  I don't know if our parents wanted a family bible or if they had ever considered owning one before.  But for some reason, Kim and I had it in our heads that a bible would be the absolute best gift.  We could choose between a white leather or black leather cover.  We chose black, and had "The Troutman Family" engraved in gold on the front cover.  It was, quite literally, the best gift anyone could have ever given their parents.  Ever.

Since then, the bible has set in Mom's living room (my parents had separate living rooms, but that's another story). She's kept it updated over the years; inside are places to write family historical information.  So on Saturday, the Troutman Family Bible will be 36 years old.

I suppose, being the eldest Troutman son, that someday the bible will come to me, after which I will pass it down to the next Troutman generation and so on.  At least, that was the original idea 36 years ago.  Mom might "Prince Charles" me and pass me over, giving it to one of her grandsons instead.  And that's her prerogative. I had a hand in starting the tradition so, in fact, I've already taken my turn with it.

So, then, tomorrow.  I guess I can no longer wish them a "happy" anniversary, because from here on out the day probably won't be.  But I'll call Mom on that day and we'll talk.  We might not even mention that it's their anniversary.  Or that might be all we talk about.  Either way, she'll know why I'm calling.

The important thing is to talk to both of them on that day - as I always have done and will continue to do.  It's just that from now on, they will be separate conversations.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Laughter Through Tears

Dad's temporary grave marker
Frostburg Memorial Cemetery
Perhaps it's the self-preservation part of the grieving process that allows you to focus on the funny stuff when someone dies.

Despite how inappropriate it feels to laugh during a funeral, amusing things do happen during the course of one's illness and suffering  - and these are the things you (read: I) think about and recall, usually at inopportune moments, that help sustain your sanity and give credence to the expression "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

Dad was diagnosed with dementia in May 2013, after a series of peculiar incidents and odd behaviors.  Occasionally, Dad would say something that didn't seem to make complete sense, or he'd forget something he was supposed to do.  It all seemed to be part of the natural aging process.  Dad was just over 70 and it seemed normal for him to have bouts of forgetfulness.  I mean, I can't remember what I had for dinner last night.

Thankfully, Dad maintained a great sense of humor especially through the early days of his illness.  Many times he and Mom would share a laugh about something he said or did.  For example:
One morning, Dad came downstairs from getting dressed wearing three shirts, a pair of shorts, and ALL of his belts.  He announced to Mom that he could never find his belts so he was just going to start wearing ALL of them every day.
Another time, Mom told him to put on deodorant and shave before they left the house. She caught Dad rubbing deodorant all over his face, clearly mixing his signals. When she drew attention to what he was doing, they both laughed.

And there was the time Mom could hear Dad rifling through her jewelry box.  She yelled to him to get out of it, and he responded that he wasn't doing anything.  She asked, "Are you in my jewelry box?".  He yelled back, "No!".  And then with perfect comedic precision, all of Mom's pearls from her mother's pearl necklace came bouncing down the wooden staircase that leads to their bedroom.  At first, it was just a peck or two, and then it was as if someone simply dumped them down the stairs.  Admittedly - horrifying to Mom at the time (and probably still to this day), but I have to hand it to Dad on his timing. 
For several months, Dad went through a phase of tidying up or, perhaps in his mind, helping out.  He would constantly wipe the kitchen counters off and place items in cabinets or storage.  And he'd place them in locations one would never think to look for them.  Mom lost track of all kinds of things.  And most of the time, Mom was actually still using the items.  I was witness to one episode where both of them were in the kitchen and Mom was trying to bake something.  She'd pull pans and supplies out of the cabinets and place them on the counter, only for Dad to come behind her, notice the item(s) and put them away again.  Then Mom would reach for what she had taken out, only to wonder where it went, look for it, and eventually think she was losing her own mind.  I remember quietly saying to myself, "Just enjoy this!" because it was like having Lucy and Ethel in my parents' kitchen.

Midway through Dad's illness, Mom needed to dress him while he was still living at home.  He'd sit in a chair while she knelt down to put on his shoes.  And while she was attempting to do this, Dad would reach out and pat and rub her head.  With bad knees herself, Mom struggled to stay on balance while trying to tie Dad's shoes and there he would be, just sitting in his chair, not helping in any way, messing her hair and sometimes knocking her glasses off.  It would infuriate her.  And he'd just giggle at her. Okay - perhaps this is one of those "you had to be there" moments, but the visual of this, and the memory it invokes, still makes me chuckle to this day.
It's these memories, and I know my Mom and siblings have many more, that have helped me look back and smile a little during a period where there was little to smile about.  In her exasperation, at times, Mom would yell at Dad - a fact she regretted early on and stopped herself from doing.  But Dad's response to her anger and frustration was to simply look at her and laugh, which caused her to laugh.... sometimes.  Because you have to.  You have to laugh.

Otherwise, all you'd do is cry.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Farewell, Dad

Probably the one thing most of us think about, more than anything else - whether we realize it or not - is the impending death of our parents. It's the one topic that we probably put the most amount of thought into, and it's certainly the thought we think about for the longest period of time.  When we are children, our first question about death is the one that can never really be answered: What.  What is death?  What does it mean?  And then once we grasp that our parents' death is imminent and guaranteed, we follow up What? with Why?, then How?, and then finally the one constant thought we will ponder perhaps more than any other thing in our lifetimes: When will my parents die?

The one thing about the "when" question is that there is no good answer to it.   We certainly don't want to lose our parents when we are children.  And the older we grow, the thought of losing our parents, even when we are in our 40s, 50s and older, is still terrifying. And the odd and funny and sad truth about asking When? is that despite it being the question we will ask perhaps more than any other question - despite the amount of time we think about this question and the amount of time we spend preparing ourselves for the answer - we are never truly ready When? it happens.

Dad was diagnosed with dementia in May 2013.  Last Saturday morning, July 22nd, Dad passed away after a 5+-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.  He had turned 78 last month.

His and Mom's fight with this gut-wrenching disease has been well-documented in this blog.  I call it THEIR struggle because despite Dad being the one with the disease, Mom was with him every step of the way - from the undated beginnings of Dad asking strange questions and making odd statements, to his forgetting simple tasks and getting confused as to where he was, to his becoming incontinent and unable to dress himself, to finally being admitted to the nursing home in September 2014 where he remained until last weekend.  Eventually he became mostly non-communicative, couldn't eat solid food, and became bed-ridden, weighing less than 120 pounds.  Alzheimer's ravaged Dad; it simply didn't care.

Through it all, though, Dad remained sweet, loving, and cooperative.  There were times in the beginning when he would argue with Mom because he was confused and forgetful.  But he came to completely depend on her for his care - to bathe him, feed him, change him, and to be his advocate and fight for him when she felt he wasn't getting the care he deserved, or at least the care that she wanted him to have.  My Mom visited my Dad in the nursing home every day from 10:30a-1:00p, and then again from 4:00p-8:00p, feeding him lunch and dinner every day.  And when I say "every day", it is not hyperbole.  For just shy of 3 years, she essentially gave up everything in order to sit with him and just be with him.  It was impressive to us, but normal for her.  She wanted no praise for doing what she wanted to do - spend time with her husband regardless.

Last week while dressing him for the day, the nurses saw a Kennedy Tumor Ulcer on Dad, which signified his body was beginning to shut down.  There would be no feeding tube and no rehabilitation.  The amazing nursing staff at Frostburg Village would work to keep him as comfortable as possible as his organs began to fail and his breathing would become labored.

Last Friday night, Mom called me and told me I should come home.  She explained Dad's situation and told me not to rush because the final moments could actually last weeks.  I hung up the phone and packed just about everything I own into 2 suitcases, a backpack, a suit bag, and a canvas bag - preparing for any eventuality for an unknown amount of time.  And despite it being past 9:00p in Chicago, I loaded up the car with Kevin's help and started driving the usually 9.5-hour trip to my parents' house.  I felt that I just had to leave right then and not wait to start in the morning.  About 4 hours later, just as I had crossed the Indiana/Ohio border on the turnpike, my phone rang at 1:00a - and I knew.  I pulled over and Mom gave me the news.  We hung up and I sat for a few minutes, stuck someplace between sorrow and relief.  It had been a difficult place to live for 3 years: outwardly wishing for life, but silently praying for death.  On more than one occasion, I pleaded with the universe to simply take him.  And now it had happened.  And despite knowing this day would come, and feeling I was prepared for it, I simply wasn't.  The When? happens when it happens.

My father did not deserve the death he had, but through it all he handled himself with humor, grace, and kindness.  And up until his last breath, he expressed love for us as best he could.  Everyone was in to see him in those last few hours.  But he waited until everyone had gone home, a little past midnight, to leave this world.  It was as if he wanted to spare us all the pain of watching him go.

My last interaction with Dad was back in June during my final visit with him.  As I stood to leave, I leaned over to give him several kisses on his forehead and I always had done.  This time, though, Dad grabbed my forearm.  When our eyes met, I saw an intensity in him that I had not experienced before.  I smiled and asked him what's up?  He moved his mouth as if he wanted to tell me something, but no sound and certainly no words came forth.  His stare was intense and it was obvious he was trying to get a message to me.  At the time, I simply smiled back at him and patted his hand and kissed the top of his head a few more times, telling him to behave himself and that I would see him again in a few weeks.  But I now know that Dad was telling me goodbye, that he somehow knew that this was the last time we would see each other.  I know he knew.  I know it.

It's been difficult to mourn him because to do so, quite simply, seems selfish.  I cannot feel sorry for him because he is now no longer in any pain, and his new world is once again clear, pleasant, and relaxing.  I cannot feel sorry for myself because this is not the life I wanted for him and I am relieved he is no longer trapped inside a body with a disease that's robbed him of all the joy in his life.  I do, however, feel sorry for Mom because of her obvious loss, but moreso because she is lost herself, now.  She has to reconfigure what she does every day from 10:30a-1:00p, and then again from 4:00p-8:00p.  Hopefully sooner than later, she will no longer get the panicked feeling that she needs to be someplace or that Dad needs her.  It's as if she's just been released from prison and she has to learn how to navigate life and think only of herself - something she probably has never done before in her entire life.  But Mom is conducting herself just like Dad had done, with grace, kindness, and even humor when she can.

And so I bid farewell to my Dad.  My reasons for why I will always love him are obvious and trite.  But more than tell me, he showed me how to be a good man, how to treat people, and how to appreciate the love of your life.  I wish him Godspeed and I believe that all of his memories have come back to him and that he is now reunited with Granny, Judy, Uncle Bill, Dad's parents, and his beloved grandmother.

And how on earth can I feel sorry about that?

I love you, Dad.  I'll be seeing you.