There was a time when it seemed like everyone that I knew was dying. Probably 15 to 20 years ago, I would panic and cringe every time I heard my home phone ring. I would know well or at least recognize at least one guy every time I looked at the obituaries. The face of AIDS was nearly always the same: the smiling handsome face of a thirty or forty something who leaves behind his mother and his father, his sisters and his brothers, with no mention of wife or kids, let alone partner or lover or significant other. In lieu of flowers, donations could be made to anything BUT an AIDS organization. Writers of these cryptic obituaries had no clue that they were making the cause of death so damn obvious.
To this day I still glance through the obituaries whenever I happen to read the printed version of a local newspaper, searching for a friend or foe. Thankfully, those sightings are few and far between, and I am so very grateful for that. Someone as young as I was back then should never have had to endure over and over again the sadness and the pain of the death of a friend. It has left me with wounds that have only slowly healed over time.
Flash forward to present time, 2014, and now I’m a 52-year old man with three young kids and a husband who is (thankfully) 10 ½ years younger than I am. We have four ageing parents between us, all of who are rushing toward their 80th birthdays, and all of who have their own list of ailments and disabilities. The inevitability of the situation is horrifying, to say the least. It seems like only yesterday when we each suffered through the death of our respective grandparents, and not a day (or two) goes by when I don’t at least think of them, if not long for them. I’m in no hurry to go through that loss again, especially with my parents.
It’s a morbid thought, but death has started to rear its ugly head all around me. I’m stuck in a battlefield now that I’m over 50, and some grenades are landing and exploding in the distance, some are close to me, and without a doubt someday one will land directly on top of me. The distant ones are just constant reminders of the danger. Like when you get the Breaking News email about this actress dying or that singer dying. It announces their age and the cause of death, and you immediately figure out the difference in years between the deceased (them) and the living (you). Unfortunately, that difference in years is getting smaller and smaller.
In the distance are also family members (mostly parents, uncles, etc.) of peers. At my age it seems like many friends are either traveling to a funeral or returning from one. I try to be supportive, partly because I know that I’m going to need their support when the grenade hits closer to home, and partly because I’m afraid and sorry.
Other reminders of the doom are just the near-death experiences as well as the signs of the fragility of health. At this precise moment between the two of us, one of us has a parent in the hospital. One has a cousin in the hospital whose water broke too early in her pregnancy. One of us has a brother with newly diagnosed cancer. One of us has sleep apnea (not really life-threatening but it makes me snore really loud.) The point is that it’s a constant barrage of bad health news that only seems to be intensifying, and I don’t like it. I want it all to stop, but it can’t.
Inescapably, my mind turns finally to my young children. I’d take the grenade for any one of them. In fact, I’d hold it in my mouth if it meant keeping them out of harm’s way. I remember the serious fever my firstborn son had in the first month of his tiny life, and how I begged, I prayed, I wished that no matter what, I would leave this earth before he would. Do not make me suffer through the loss of my children or my husband. I’m sure they’ll all be just fine once I kick the bucket, but if any of them go first, I can’t imagine that I’d ever be the same person.
My sons have started asking me how old I will be when they are my age, because they want to go swimming together and be able to race me across the pool. I matter-of-factly and with a straight face give them the answer (98), but I add that beating me in a race will be the least of their worries. But for now, my sons, just enjoy learning to read and learning to swim. Leave the worrying to Daddy.
By Danny Thomas
It’s St. Patrick’s Day…
We keep trying to make family traditions
for St. Patrick’s Day,
none of them stick.
In my head
it was always
a big deal with my family
We certainly always
ate a special meal.
If not corned beef and cabbage,
then something related.
Sometimes we went to see a film
an irish film
at some art house theatre.
My mom loves foreign films.
And art films.
We went to a lot of independent films
at art house theatres
when I was growing up.
It sometimes depresses me
when our holidays
do not jive with
the holidays I remember growing up.
and St Patricks Day…
I just need to give it time…
let the traditions develop…
let the family grow…
and create relationships…
with each other…
and with other families…
and those traditions will take
it takes work,
and decisive thinking,
on the part of the family,
to create the traditions.
It takes some effort.
And right now
is aimed at other things in our lives.
But there is time…
I keep coming back to this idea,
to this notion
of the difference
how we imagine things to be…
how we hope for them to be…
and the reality that they become.
This thought; that we have an ideal
or an expectation,
and sometimes the world matches it
if we’re lucky,
the world falls drastically short of our expectation.
Does it fall short,
or is it just different
than what we expected?
And wouldn’t it be worse,
to get everything you expect,
and know every bump down the road,
than rolling with
the ups and downs?
As much as it seems nice to have everything in place all the time,
the dreary monotony,
would be relentless.
I am more inclined
to find a way
my rattling cage.
My dad’s birthday is on Thursday.
it’s the first one
since he died.
The thing that
makes me most sad
is not that he doesn’t
get to have another birthday
(he was tired of them 10 years ago)
or even that I don’t get to wish him another happy birthday.
The thing that makes me saddest
is thinking about my mom
who, by default of her partnership,
and the traditions built in around
has had something to do
on March 21st
for the last 50 years
I wish we could be together this
I wish my brother could be there too…
All of us.
But this is another one of those bumps in the road.
This is one of those ways things are different than we expect…
this is one of the ways things change.
And embracing change
the stuff that
with the same
that brings us
By Shannon Ralph
Kids listen. Even when you don’t think they listen. Even when you are discussing things you’d rather them not hear. They appear to be focused on their video game. Or up to their elbows in Crayola crafts. Or books. Or toys. But they hear you.
All three of my kids were crammed into the back seat of our Toyota Camry. The Christmas carols were blaring on the radio. Sophie was singing along. Lucas and Nicholas were fully invested in a game of “I punch you. You punch me.” All was well in the world.
Then Lucas asked me a question.
Out of the blue, Lucas asked, “Mom, I’ve heard you talking about someone losing their mom. What is that about?”
I turned the radio down. I had just told Ruanita the evening before that we would have to tell the kids what was going on. As usual, they caught on. And in their typical modus operandi, they asked about it when Ruanita was nowhere in sight.
I paused for a moment to choose my words carefully.
“You know your friends Rex and Rory?” I asked.
“Yes,” all three kids replied in unison.
“Well, you know their mom, Lisa, too. You know she is sick, right?”
“Yea,” Lucas replied. “She has cancer.”
“That’s why she doesn’t have any hair,” Sophie chimed in.
“Right, she has cancer.” I went on to explain, “She’s really sick and her cancer has spread. She’s in the hospital right now.”
“The doctors have done everything they can to help her, but there is nothing else they can do. Her doctors say that she is going to die.”
“When?” Nicholas asked.
“Well,” I responded. “No one knows for sure, but the doctors think she only has one or two more days.”
“Before Christmas?” Lucas asked.
“Yea, honey. Before Christmas. Probably very soon.”
Ever the first-born, Lucas immediately began trying to figure out how the situation could be “fixed.” He launched into a diatribe about how cancer could be eliminated if scientists would simply employ the use of nanobots to attack the cancer cells. Yea…nanobots. He’s nine years old. He thinks science can fix everything.
Sophie was quiet for a moment. Then—in the tiniest voice I have ever heard come from her sassy little mouth—she said, “So Rex and Rory are losing their momma?” I assured her that she had nothing to worry about. I explained that neither of her mommies is sick. We are both healthy and plan on being here with her for many, many years to come. That seemed to appease her a bit, but I could see her little brain working. I could tell she was processing the fact that little kids can actually lose their mommies, a thought I am sure had not entered her mind until that day.
Nicholas said nothing. He was completely silent. Being the baby of the family—both in actual age and assigned family position—I don’t know if it was more than he could understand. Or that he didn’t know how to respond. Or perhaps, he was was just deferring to Sophie and Lucas, as is his usual custom. He’s only six years old. A friend losing his mommy is a pretty large concept for such a little boy.
My kids have known Rex and Rory for what seems like years and years. We’ve been to their birthday parties. They come to my kids’ parties. My sister, Jennifer, nannies for the boys. Their mom is one of her best friends.
And Lisa is dying. Right now. As I write this. The breast cancer she thought she had beaten came back with a vengeance and spread throughout her body.
We saw Lisa just a couple weeks ago at my nephew’s birthday party. She looked sick. She was hurting. Sophie stared at her bald head. She had probably become accustomed to the stares of little kids.
But she was still the same sassy Lisa. A smartass. With a wicked sense of humor. She curses like a sailor. The queen of the F-bomb. Even at a 10-year-old’s birthday party. And had she not been undergoing chemo, I have no doubt she would have had a cocktail in her hand. Lisa says what she thinks and is unapologetic about it. In my mind, she is the epitome of the badass momma. And I adore her.
Rex is eight years old. Rory is five. And they are losing their mom. The world is losing a phenomenal woman. Probably this week. Right before Christmas.
I am not sure I explained everything to my kids in the best possible way. The words just escaped me. I don’t want them to be scared. I don’t want them to be sad. But I am scared. And I am sad. And all I want in the world is to hold on to my babies and never let go.
I don’t have to leave my babies. At least not today. Or tomorrow.
Not all mommies are so lucky.
By: Danny Thomas
I have been trying to write this blog for three weeks…
About this idea of rhythm
And being out of time
About tapping into my circadian self
About re-finding my pace…
I have a lot of thoughts…
It’s hard to organize them.
I think partly because I am so
This is troubling.
Part of what has got me in mind of
rhythmicality is this undertaking I have begun, getting fit…
running a few times a week…
I have also been thinking about what it means and how it feels to be
such a stereotype…
faced, in a painfully drastic way, with mortality;
trying to get fit;
writing about it.
I am more comfortable with being a stereotype at 39 than I was at 29, or 19…
But, what the hey, that fits the stereotype too, doesn’t it?
Today I hit the end of my 5th week of a fitness program… the first longer run…
Jumping from 5 minute running intervals to a 20 minute run…
I tried to do it outside, I have, prior to today, been running on a treadmill…
For various reasons, not the least of which is the lack of a jogging stroller…
I had no idea how to keep a decent pace without the treadmill.
It seems the virtual Mickey Goldmill has been of utmost importance for me.
The run killed me. I had no sense of pace. Raced for the first half of my run, and couldn’t make it the rest of the way, had to walk…
As I mentioned, I have had a sense of being adrift, of being out of time, but I don’t think I realized how out of touch with myself I am. For some reason this inability to find a decent maintainable pace seems to have philosophic significance for me, it seems to be important… I am realizing that I have never been great at pacing myself… that it hasn’t ever been that vital, or felt that essential…
But I have, for much of my time here on this planet, had a sense of rhythm…
And I’m not just talking about James Brown and Cole Porter…
(Although, I do have the funk!)
I am talking about the bigger rhythms…
I am talking about being sensitive to, and taking pleasure in, the patterns of The Universe.
I am talking about grooving on the harmonic layers of chaos and order that create the strange and magnificent upheaval of day to day life…
About rolling with the swing of the seasons, the weather, the wind, blowing apples from the tree, and the bees eating those apples, teeny tiny bites at a time…
I have known that I was out of shape,
And needed to get fit.
And I have known that something tripped me up
Over the course of my father’s illness and death.
But I haven’t been able to put words to it…
In fact, Jen asked me, at some point in the summer,
How I was dealing, because from where she sat I seemed pretty detached…
I was surprised… I had not felt detached…
I had felt like I was tuned in to my feelings and my family,
That I was open and sharing myself honestly…
But she clearly sensed a hitch in the get-a-long…
I now have words for what that is…
I am out of sync, out of rhythm…
Off my cycle…
Who knows if this was caused by my father’s death alone…
Maybe approaching middle age… Maybe it’s the shift from the west coast to the mid-west…
Maybe it’s the growing family…
Probably it is all of these things. And probably some things I can’t even sense or name.
I’ll tell you this tho, running feels good, and learning to find my pace seems like a good thing… and, even if I’ve never been much good at pacing myself before, it seems like the right time to learn.
By Meika Rouda
I have been struck by the duality of age recently. On the one side, I am watching my kids get older, and with each day there is something new: an inch to grow, a new word to learn, a bike to ride. On the other side I see my parents aging: saggy skin, muscles that don’t work they way they used to, dying friends. They are on opposite sides of the spectrum, one side ascending and the other descending. Yet they both greet each new day with delight, happy to be here, to be alive.
My parents are 78 and in wonderful shape physically and mentally, but time has chiseled its imprint on their bodies and they are slower, less energetic. They have ailments like chronic coughing and digestive problems. Nothing major but things that remind them they are approaching a later stage in life, where they have outlived many of their friends and other family members. I am grateful my parents are alive and they are not sick or struggling, that I get to see them often, that my children spend time with them and have gotten to know them. And yet it makes me sad to see them change, to know that maybe in the best case scenario there is only a good decade left before they leave us. To wonder what it will be like to not have parents anymore or worse perhaps, to lose the parent I know while they are still living. I am fearful of them having dementia and being captive in bodies that still work but minds that don’t.
I’m not ready for my parents to die. I have never known life without them. They are the people I call with good news and bad. The ones who I have leaned on many times in my life and have always comforted me, reassured me, supported me when I have needed it.
And now I am a parent and filling this role for my children. My children who too are aging and it is a joyful aging process, from babies to toddlers to kids.
I am in the middle, middle age, neither young nor old, bridging these two generations watching one decline and the other rise.
My dad has a saying that helps me keep it all in perspective. If you ask someone if they would like to live forever, most people would say yes. If you ask that same person if would they like to live forever but no new babies would be born, they all say no. If no new generations were to grace the earth in order for them to continue living, it would not be worth it. And that is what I see when I look at my children next to my parents. A full circle, a full life, another day to celebrate.
By: Danny Thomas
it’s been over a month since I blogged
which is strange
usually I am prolific in the summer…
the summer makes me think.
and it makes me take my time.
and thinking, along with taking my time usually lead to writing…
but this summer has been full.
Not just of the usual summer stuff
not just sunblock
and fire works
and plastic backyard pools…
this summer my dad died.
it’s hard to write any words after those words.
it’s been hard to write any words at all.
from the time I started writing this blog, along with my wife, he has been who I write for.
I mean I write for anyone who’ll read it but
he is who is in my heart when I write.
I guess that won’t change.
I have A New Hole.
He was my hero.
I am glad and grateful all my girls met their granddad.
I am glad and grateful I was there when he died.
I am glad and grateful the worst parts of his illness were short
and quick and relatively comfortable.
I am glad and grateful circumstance allowed my family to be around him, together, when he died.
I am glad and grateful arrangements were more or less simple and reasonable…
I am glad and grateful that my dad and I spent the last several years really sharing openly with each other our mutual respect and admiration.
I am glad and grateful that all of these things help me to feel, on some level “okay”
There is a lot to be grateful for.
I have A New Hole.
A New Heartbreak.
A friend recently wrote, “Language is an inadequate method of communication to describe most of the human condition. I demand a more suitable replacement.”
As it turns out she was talking, to some degree, about child rearing, and specifically the emotional rollercoaster of sleep training… but, even without context, the statement works in the broadest sense.
It hit me.
There is, indeed, no language, no rendering of words, that can describe the strange emptiness and sadness I feel as a result of my dad dying, or the feeling I have of being okay with it.
Okay with the grief, okay with how it happened, the process…
okay with not being okay…
it doesn’t even make sense, hence; words fail.
I just have This Hole…
and I know little things… and big things…
are going to nudge that hole
off and on
for the rest of my life.
and that seems terribly sad.
and terribly right.
By: Ann Brown
You gotta make me a promise. It has to do with my death.
I am a daughter, a good one, one of two. Therefore, it goes to say that my mom has her own death and funeral covered. My sister and I know the drill – when Mom looks as if the Grim Reaper is nigh, we are to (in order of importance): take all funky underwear out of the dresser drawers and discard it immediately; take out the eggplant – which will be in the oven, this is a given – and turn off the oven. Don’t throw the eggplant out, however, just leave it on the counter to cool. Never mind that Karen and I live a thousand miles from Mom and by the time we get to LA the eggplant will be quite well-done, not to mention full of e-coli, we are not to throw it out because someone at the funeral may be constipated and it will be a welcome buffet offering (wait, what am I talking, someone may be constipated? We’re Jewish. Someone may not be constipated); look in all Mom’s boots and coat pockets for twenty dollar bills; and, most importantly, check that underwear drawer again. Also, if there is chicken cooling on the kitchen counter, don’t throw it away. This last item is aimed at me because my mom believes I am neurotic about throwing good food away. And it’s a lost cause to argue because my sister agrees with her.
When I pick my mom up at the airport I can find her luggage by smell. Her bags are filled with Tupperware containers of leftovers from her refrigerator that should have been dumped days before she left on her trip and they languish – untouched – in the back of my refrigerator for the week of her visit after which my sister, who has the intestines of a feral dog, tosses them in the sun-baked trunk of her car while she drives the four hours to her house. She leaves the leftovers on her kitchen counter for the afternoon and enjoys them for dinner the next three nights.
Her husband, a human, will try just a spoonful at Karen’s insistent urging and spend the night on the toilet, clutching his abdomen and crying out for mercy.
So when it comes to saving or dumping the post mortem chicken on Mom’s counter, I am outnumbered.
This, however, is not pertinent to what I am asking of you at the time of my death.
I need you to check that Robin and my sons have sent me to my Maker wearing pants. I have reason to be concerned.
When Robin’s mom passed away this was an issue. Evidently, when the burial outfit was brought to the mortuary, pants were forgotten. This wouldn’t make a particularly worrisome story but for Robin’s description of the event. He said to me, “It didn’t seem necessary. I mean, it was a really long drive back to my parents’ house to get pants for her, and anyway, the coffin was only open from the middle to the top.” Really, Robin? That seems a reasonable reason to bury a person in just a nice blouse and shoes? He was finally persuaded when the Hungarian woman who prepared the body admonished him, “You vant Mama should fly to Heaven vit no pents?”
Vit no pents, indeed. I am taking no chances. I have no daughters. I have two good sons, however, but every time I remind them to put pants on me as soon as I die, they look at me as if I am asking them to pour hot tar up their noses.
So I am counting on you now. Pants. I will probably be able to fit into the beige Jag jeans in the back of my closet after a day or two of death, so put me in those, please.
Oh, and if my mom and sister outlive me, a word to the wise: don’t eat the chicken from the buffet.