Monday, April 25, 2016

The Lincoln Bed

For many people, whether or not said people are fans of Abraham Lincoln, the term "the Lincoln Bed" refers to the bed that has taken up residence in what is now called The Lincoln Bedroom in The White House.  Two things one should know:

First, Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bed.  It is a rosewood bed nearly 8 feet long and 6 feet wide, with an enormous headboard and large footboard decorated with carved grapes, grapevines, and birds.  It was purchased by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln during her extensive redecorating efforts around 1861.  It was originally put in the Prince of Wales Guest Room, which is now the First Families' Private Dining Room.  Young Willie Lincoln died in the White House at age 11 in the bed on February 20, 1862.  But Lincoln himself never used it.

And second, Abraham Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bedroom.  It is a room on the second floor of the Executive Mansion that Lincoln used as an office (it is the most often seen room in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln).

The Lincoln (Death) Bed
Chicago History Museum
With that said, the term "the Lincoln Bed" means something completely different to me: it is the bed in which Abraham Lincoln died on April 15, 1865 inside the Petersen House on 10th Street in NW Washington, DC.  If you visit The Petersen House, across from Ford's Theater, you will see a well-made replica of the bed in the back bedroom where Lincoln drew his last breath at 7:22AM.  But it's not the actual bed in which he died.  THAT bed is currently on display at The Chicago History Museum.

And I recently just stood and stared at it for a long time!

The bed is part of the museum's "Lincoln's Undying Words" exhibit.  I had seen the bed once before when it was on display at Chicago History Museum many years ago.  Back then, Kevin and I were still a new couple and we were visiting the Museum when we came across the bed.  The display at that time was fairly rudimentary and I could have easily reached out to touch the bed.  But Kevin was nervous about me trying it, so I didn't do it (I was still trying to make a good impression).  I totally blame him for that missed opportunity and I have carried a heavy grudge about it ever since.  I almost didn't marry him because of it.  And I am totally lying.

The Chicago History Museum (one of my faves in the city) is also in possession of the sheets and bloody pillowcases (they had to be changed every time Mary visited her husband's bedside so that she wouldn't freak out any further due to Lincoln's substantial blood loss).  Someday I will get to see those, I'm sure of it.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Can I Get A Witness?

On a recent trip back home to visit my folks, I was working out in the yard raking up leaves from last fall when I heard a car door in my parents' driveway.  I walked around the house to see two very well-dressed women getting out of a minivan and walking to the front door.  I yelled a hello and one of the women responded with, "Is she home?"

They seemed to know my Mother and her daily routine of visiting Dad at the nursing facility.  The more talkative of the two women introduced herself as Rose and wanted to leave literature for Mom.  I wasn't sure if Mom actually knew these women or if perhaps she had met them just once during a visit with Dad.  In any event, I knew they were peddling something about God and Jesus and wouldn't have let them near Mom in the first place, even if she actually had been home at the time.

But again, Rose seemed to know Mom.  She talked about how impressed she was with the amount of time Mom spends visiting Dad.  The second woman asked how long my parents have been married and I told them that it would be 55 years in August.  I went on to say that Mom took her marriage vows very seriously and is sticking by him through this ordeal.

And then something interesting happened...

Lady #2 smiled at me and said, "So I can see by your hand that you are married too!"  I replied simply, "yes I am."  Rose went on to elaborate about how important the ring is as a symbol of marriage and how people out in the world need to learn to respect the ring more as a promise of devotion - which is why she doesn't do things like have lunch with male co-workers or go out with male friends because it could make her husband uncomfortable.  Seems a bit strict, but whatever works for Rose and her insecure husband.

Rose asked me how long I've been married.  I said that we got married a year and a half ago.  There was a pause, I think because they expected me to have been married longer based on my age.  Or perhaps they were silently surmising that I was probably on my 2nd or 3rd marriage.  I went on to explain that we had been together for almost 11 years but decided to actually get married a year and a half ago.

And then Lady #2 asked the question I'd been giddily waiting for...   "And what's your wife's name?"  My immediate response was, "Well, I'm married to a man and his name is Kevin."

{insert sound of crickets chirping}

I'm confident they were not expecting that response - not only what I said but the ease with which I said it.  It took a few seconds for them to process the information, after which, Rose asked, "And how does your mother feel about that?"  Again, I was unsure of their relationship to Mom so I didn't want to be, well, ME.  In any other circumstance, I would have retorted back with something like, "well, how should she feel?"  Instead, I simply replied, "My family loves Kevin.  I actually think they love him more than they love me."

And then the REALLY interesting thing happened...

Rose simply invited me to go on their website, www.jw.org, to read all the advice they have for married couples, things like how to discuss problems with each other, how to compromise, how to deal with the "silent treatment".  To their credit, whatever these two women might have been thinking, they chose to accept me right there and then as just another married person, and preached to me just as they would any other married person.  In a rural place like Frostburg where exposure to a married gay person is about as rare as seeing an albino penguin, I give Rose and her cohort a lot of credit for choosing to accept me and not preach THEIR beliefs to me.  I wasn't impressed enough to convert, but was still pleasantly surprised.

The conversation ended somewhat quickly after that and they politely excused themselves, asking me to be sure Mom received the literature they were leaving and to tell her they stopped by.  They pleasantly said their goodbyes and climbed back into the minivan and drove away.  I chuckled to myself as I walked back to the yard, "I bet they weren't expecting THAT today."

And I picked up the rake and went back to my boring yard work.




Thursday, April 14, 2016

Alzheimer's + Pneumonia = Heavy Toll

For those who are following the story of my parents and my dad's Alzheimer's, I wanted to provide an update.

As you know, Dad's been living in a nursing facility for the past 18 months or so.  During that time, it seems that he has come to accept that it is now his home.  The staff is very kind to Dad and he has his obvious favorites.  They treat him well for two reasons:  1) Everyone has always liked my Dad.  He was always friendly, gregarious, and ready for a party.  He mellowed some as he aged, but for the most part, Dad was the person you could easily share a beer with, who would yell to you when he saw you, who people recognized throughout our part of the state partly because of who he is and partly because of the job he had.  And 2) because when we cannot advocate for ourselves, we all hope that we have someone to fight for us, just like the way my Mom does for him every day.  The staff at the nursing facility know that if they slip up just once, Mom is there to call them on it.  Nothing slips by her.  She continues to be (as she always has been) Dad's wife/mother/best friend in sickness and in health.

And Dad's health continues to steadily decline.  Three weeks ago, Dad contracted double pneumonia, an illness from which even the healthiest people have difficulty recovering.  As the paramedics were placing Dad in the ambulance to transport him to the hospital, the nursing staff prepared Mom for the probability that Dad would not recover from it.

But recover he did.  The scrappiest man I've ever known defeated double pneumonia for the 2nd time within a year, both times with greatly reduced faculties.  His tenacity to survive continues to amaze me on a daily basis.  It's not without a paid price, however.  Last week, I traveled home to see Mom and Dad and he is quite different now than when I saw him at Christmas.  His verbal communication has almost ceased.  He now will either fuss with something small in his hands or simply just sit and stare.  Mom continues to talk to him as she always has, but her words may be falling on deaf ears, or at least ears that are run by a brain that refuses to allow Dad's mouth to engage in the conversation.

Mom continues to visit Dad twice a day, every day.  She feeds him both lunch and dinner.  When we counsel Mom that she doesn't need to spend that much time with him, she simply replies that she "just can't see him sitting (up there) all by himself all day".  That's an amazingly supportive and loving thought.  However we aren't completely sure if Dad understands the passing of time.  During a recent evening visit, Mom got up from the chair in which she had been sitting for a few hours and walked to Dad's closet to organize his clothes.  When she came back to the chair, Dad reacted with a weak, "Oh hi" as if he was seeing her for the first time that day.

At this point, Mom visits Dad for her sake, not his.  And until she decides that it's okay for her to spend less time living his life and more time living her own, there's nothing her family can do to change her pattern.  Still, this continued regimen of just sitting for 4-hour increments not communicating with anyone is aging Mom at a rapid rate.  It's not fair to her and not fair to us as, in many ways, my siblings and I have two parents essentially living in a nursing facility.  She KNOWS she needs to take better care of herself and she KNOWS that things should change for her, but until she accepts those ideas as OK, she will continue living his life, not hers.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Happy 11 Year Blog-iversary!

Me in 2005 -
The night before I started this blog
Today, April 11th, marks the 11th Anniversary of this blog.  

Interestingly (to some I guess), April 11, 2005 was also on a Monday  I was still living in DC with my roommate, Ashley, and was in a rather confused place in my life.  And much like when I had previously found myself without a sense of direction, or at least in a situation under which I felt or believed I had no control, I chose to put my feelings and emotions in writing, with the hopes of providing myself with some clarity.

That day, Monday, April 11, 2005, I had taken the day off from work (extending my birthday-weekend celebration) and spent it sitting outside in the sun at Lauriol Plaza consuming what ended up becoming many pitchers of margaritas with Kelly, Eric, Ryan, and Carlos.  And it was there, then, and they who encouraged me to create this outlet.  came home from that amazing day, sat down at my laptop (albeit it heavily buzzed) and decided to give this thing a whirl.   My first post was all about trying something new which, even today, is often difficult for me to do.

At the time, I had no idea about what I would be writing.  Initially, I was "followed" by a small handful of people, mostly friends also in DC; some of them also had blogs and supported other writers, some were just supportive friends.  It wasn't until my posts about my heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery that my following jumped to a few thousand people per post, thanks to a then-popular blog linking to mine.  After that, my blog was pretty successful.  And then it wasn't.  And now it's modest.

Since the start, I've posted 679 blog entries (this makes 680), which averages to a little over one post per week for 11 years.  It's both surprising and not-that-shocking that I have had that much to say.  And there is no end in sight.

My big hope was that someday, some editor would find my blog and ask me to come write for his/her magazine, whether print or online.  But that's never happened.  Still, this is something that not many people have - a fairly deep account of one's life and thoughts for more than a decade.  Even I can look back and see how I've grown as a person and how my opinions may have changed, if at all.  I certainly haven't posted EVERYTHING I've thought about.  I still have about 100 drafts that I have either not completed or feel that I just cannot or should not post for various reasons.  But probably someday.

Ten years ago, I celebrated the 1-Year Anniversary of this blog with eyes-wide wonder of what would happen in the coming years.  I never would have thought that my life would have turned out as complete and wonderful as it has.  I'd call myself lucky, but Kevin always says "you make your own luck".  Somehow in some way, I guess I just managed to do everything exactly right in order for my life to have turned out this well.  And you reap the benefit of reading about it, at least on a weekly basis.

More to come, and thanks for reading...

Monday, April 04, 2016

Suzy

On what would have been her 32nd birthday this year, I want to honor Suzy.

Suzy was my family's toy poodle.  I named her after my favorite aunt.  Suzy's full AKC name was Mademoiselle Suzette Cherie.  She came to us in May 1984 and provided us with almost 13 years of love, dedication, fun, and bitchiness.  She was a very tiny presence in a house filled with people, but her personality, grit and pluck made you think she was every bit the same size as the people with whom she lived.

My dad randomly brought her home one afternoon.  He had friends whose pure bred poodle had a litter of toy apricots and they gave one to Dad.  At first, Mom wouldn't let Dad in the house with her.  But slowly Mom warmed up to Suzy, despite telling anyone who would listen for 12+ years that she hated the dog.  And also despite this, Suzy would follow my Mom around incessantly.  If we were all sitting out on the deck and Mom walked into the house, Suzy would get up and follow.  If there was every any doubt that Mom was our alpha, Suzy confirmed it.

"The Tooz" was spunky - most likely because she had to be.  My family is full of big people who also tend to be loud, especially when we get together.  It's a lot of girth accompanied with a lot of noise.  So to compensate, or perhaps just to compete, Suzy's personality was every bit as large as ours.  Fair warning: she'd bite.  Not hard enough to draw blood or anything, but now and then we would all get a peck from her (except Mom, of course).  Tooz loved to cuddle.  When I'd lay on the couch she would jump up and curl up on my chest and lay there as long as I did.  But when I would move to put her down, I'd get a little bite from her.  Oddly enough, none of us was bothered by it.  It was just Tooz being Tooz.  She'd growl when she was unhappy and we just learned to let her be when she didn't want to be bothered.  It's probably the only way she could keep her sanity.

When Suzy was about 2, I took her outside on what was the first nice day of the year.  She was running around the yard and playing with me.  As we were chasing each other in circles, we accidentally went in the same direction and I stepped on her front right leg.  She yelped so loud that people came running out of the house, yelling at me for hurting her.  We took her to the vet and she wore a cast (hot pink, of course) for a few weeks.

She didn't seem to hold a grudge against me.

Suzy was always happy to see us when we came home.  After I moved away, I would leave a tee shirt or something behind that she'd keep in her bed. She loved her bed, but she mostly would lay on the landing between the first two levels of my parents' home - I think because she could better see what was going on in the house from that place.  Starting around 6:00 every night though, she would sit near the door and wait for Dad to come home.  She'd just sit and stare at the door and nothing would make her move from her spot.  She'd greet him anxiously and then mostly retire back to her spot because now everyone was where they belonged and she could relax.

She was a great dog in the regard that we could leave her in the house all day by herself and she never made any kind of mess.  She most likely enjoyed the solitude.  Letting her out was as simple as opening the door and allowing her to go about her business in the yard.  She'd bark when she was ready to come back in.  This worked well for the first 9 or 10 years, but as Suzy got older she began to wander off.  She was returned to us at least 2 times that I know of by people who found her several yards away.

She almost made it to 13 when we realized that she was fading.  The vet suggested that now was the time to put her down.  My dad simply couldn't do it.  So on January 25, 1997, he and Mom and my sister took the day and went shopping about 100 miles away while my youngest brother had to take Suzy to be put to sleep.  He said Suzy sat and watched him as he dug the hole in the yard where she would be placed, almost as if she knew what would happen.  He took her to McDonald's drive-thru for some ice cream, then took her to the vet.

For awhile, I was upset with him that he didn't go back with Suzy when they put her down, that he allowed her to go through it alone.  But when the vet came out and asked him to come back and identify her before he could release her, Mike almost couldn't do it.  He told the vet, "I don't care what you give me in the bag.  I don't care if it's a squirrel.  Just give me something to take home and bury.  Don't make me look at her."  But alas, the law is the law and he had to see her.  Then, he went to pieces.  He brought her home, placed her in the grave she had watched him dig, and placed a stone on top of the spot that is still there today in my parents' yard.  Mom said that Dad cried like he had lost a child.  I'm sure Mom did too, but she would never admit it.

Me and Suzy, 1985
We didn't get another dog after that because Mom refused - still exclaiming that she hated the first one and didn't want another.  But I think the loss of Suzy was simply too great for my parents to go through again.  Suzy was great company to them as one by one their children moved out of the house.

So today, I wish Suzy a happy birthday and thank her for all the love (and love bites) she bestowed on all of us.