Sunday, August 27, 2006

Final Respects

We had been living in this dreamworld where everything would somehow keep getting better. At least, I was. Some small part of me. We heard for months that he was worse, he was in the hospital, he was in trouble, and then the next day we'd hear that he got suddenly better, he was out of the hospital, he was going to physical therapy and he would be able to walk again within the week. Worse, and suddenly better. And then worse. And then better.

He didn't want us to come down until he was "better." He had bone cancer, and we knew that "better" was somewhat of a fantasy. He may not ever get better. But we played along with the game, because to refuse to play along was to force him to confront the truth, and R wasn't ready to do that, and I wasn't ready to tell her. She had to make the call. He was her father.

He was her father.

We got the call not from him, not from his partner, but from the roommate. The roomate knew everything about his health, and he was the only one left after her dad's partner was hit by an unexpected health crisis and also ended up in the emergency room. The roommate called because he was the only one left, and he knew where the important phone numbers were kept, who to call in case of an emergency. He called R first, the oldest daughter, the one who would know who else to call. R called everyone else that needed to be called. And then we flew to Florida.

We landed. We rented a car. We drove directly to the hospice facility - the suitcases stayed in the trunk - and we went to see R's dad.

I wasn't ready. We had just seen him recently in Boston at the wedding of his younger daughter. He looked thinner, certainly, and weaker, and he mostly sat while entertaining us and his grandson Oliver. But he was there then, solid, breathing, walking. He was there. When he saw him, in the hospital bed, wearing what people only wear in hospitals, he looked barely there. He was a mere rumor of the man he once had been.

We arrived on Wednesday. R visited him as much as she could. We went to the house, which was a more comfortable place to be than the cold antiseptic hotel. On Thursday night, R stayed with him late in the evening. She fed him sherbet. He remarked, "I've been eating a lot of ice cream lately." They talked. They had good time together.

By Friday morning he had slipped away. He went in his sleep. The hospice nurses later told us that he had looked at peace the previous night, and we pray that it was true. He had suffered greatly in his last months, and he deserved peace.

At the reception of the wedding in Boston, there was an open mike where people could offer toasts to the bride and groom. After a few lighthearted toasts, R's father stepped gingerly to the microphone. In a quiet but determined voice, he praised his new son-in-law, and told the crowd how joyful he was that his three children had all found happiness with the people they were meant to be with. "My life is complete." His newly married daughter embraced him, and many of us found ourselves wiping away tears as he took his seat.

R was an anchor for the next few days. She went along to the funeral home. She supported everyone else. When she came home, when we were along in the hotel room, she let everything go. But she was the rock for everyone else while she was there, as strong as I have ever seen her.

~ ~ ~

He was her father. She was his oldest child, and her relationship with him was not always perfect. You know how these things work: mom and dad split up when she was ten, dad moved out, and then years later moved all the way to Florida. But around the time we started going out, he started working to rebuild their relationship. He called. Once, maybe twice a month. It was a big step - he was always a quiet man, and talking on the phone didn't come easy to him. But he dutifully called, and chatted, and they started connecting.

He came out when Cutie Pie (Oliver's older cousin in Oregon) was born. That was years before everything started. We didn't talk much - he seemed shy, and his partner was more gregarious and did most of the talking. But he seemed an intelligent and serious man. He hated traveling, and he kept hedging on plans to visit Oliver. Then everything started down the slippery slope, and we made plans instead to see him.

~ ~ ~

We spent a lot of time in his house when we were in Florida. And I feel like I learned more about him by seeing his home than I ever learned sitting across the couch from him. He was an incredibly tidy man. An accountant by trade, he left all of his affairs carefully arranged in manila folders, in clearly labeled documents saved on his computer. He left the files of his life in a neat and orderly stack for his son, the executor of his will, to find.

Every square inch of his home was a testament to him. He was a crafty man. He was constantly making little modifications so that things would work better. He built a cat door that led into the garage, and when you looked in the garage, you would see that the cat door led directly into a litter box. He built a door specifically so his cat could relieve himself outside the house, and the smell wouldn't get into the house.

He had a spice rack built under the sink in his kitchen, accessible by a door that folded down. It was completely invisible unless you knew where to look. I opened the door accidentally, and I was first surprised and then amused. It was a simple and a brilliant little thing. His house was full of small, simple, brilliant things.

No two lighting fixtures in the house were alike. He had a thing for dimmer switches, and for recessed lighting. The cabinets in the kitchen were fitted with recessed lighting that illuminated the stemware like museum pieces. He also had remotes everywhere: for the surround sound system (complete with a subwoofer built under the living room floor), for the ceiling fans, for the fountains in the backyard, for the tiny flatscreen tv in the kitchen. Oliver loved the house because he had so many buttons he could push and make things happen. He will see that house many times in his coming years, and I want him to feel the way I did. I want him to feel that, in some way, his grandfather's heart and soul lived in that house as much as in his frail body. That house will be one way that he can learn about his grandfather as he grows up. "Who put that door in, mommy?"

"That was your grumpa."

Before we left, Oliver had a night time ritual of saying "good night" to a row of pictures on the mantle. Two of those photos are of his grandfather, one of them a recent shot in Boston with Oliver on his lap. Now, when we say good night to the mantle pictures, I get quiet every time we come across grumpa. Sometimes I tell him that his uncle Mike, who also has a picture on the mantle, is playing poker with him that night, somewhere up in the sky beyond the clouds.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


"How was the first week at the new job?"

Fine. Great. I have a new desk, a brand-new chair, and my boss is springing for a computer cart so I can have my keyboard and mouse in an ergonomically proper position. I have my own office, for the first time in my life. Flat panel display. There are two part-time administrative assistants - I can ask someone else to make copies or stamp my mail. It's crazy.

My office is right in the heart of Seattle Center. I can walk to the Space Needle. I have fantastic coffee shops and restaurants within walking distance, and my window looks out onto the monorail track.

Today is Sunday. I was putting away laundry in the room we once called Oliver's bedroom, that now is just "that room." Or "the back bedroom." It's essentially a storage area where we have our clothes, a futon, and lots of odds and ends and things that we can't put anywhere else. Like scrapbooks. And the memory box, that has clothes and hats and things from Oliver's earliest days. We had pulled them out yesterday, and I think something was triggered when I saw his little tiny "Born at Swedish" hat, the first outfit he wore home from the hospital. The little black onesie with "Daddy" emblazoned on it in mock-tattoo lettering.

Anyway, I went back to hang up a shirt, and I just stopped. I sat down on the futon, looking at the parenting books on the shelf and the bibs that he no longer wears. He used to wear these little cloth bibs when I gave him bottles, but he doesn't use them anymore because he doesn't get bottles anymore, because I'm no longer home with him. They are artifacts. Memories.

I sat down with his little puppy-dog bib. I picked up The Expectant Father, the book I used to prepare for life with a baby. I leafed to the last chapter, the one we read just before we drove to Swedish Hospital. The last chapter I read before I made the jump from "expectant father" to "new father." And then my eyes filled up with tears.

I don't know what happened. It just erupted. I sobbed and sobbed, and I thought ludicrously, "Oh, I must just be depressed. Probably doesn't have anything to do with being away from Oliver." As I sat next to the box of outgrown memories. With "The Expectant Father" in my hands. With an outgrown puppy-dog bib on my knee. This has nothing to do with missing Oliver.

It's good working again. It's a good feeling earning a paycheck (although I know I was working the whole time I was home with him.) It's good talking to adults again. It's very good working with this organization, which does good and critical work and makes me proud.

But the heartache just snuck up and waylaid me. Mrs. B comforted me through another sobfest, but she did let me know that the pain never really goes away. He's going to get older and have adventures with his mother (not me) for a few weeks. When she goes back to work, he'll spend three days with the daycare, having adventures without either of us.

But we're doing the best we can. Mrs. B is going down to four days a week, so she'll spend Mondays with him. One of the best perks of this job is that I work four days a week - long days, but I get the reward of a three-day weekend. So he'll spend Mondays with mommy, Fridays with me, and only three days a week in daycare. It's a good situation. My work days will be long, but it's worth it to spend an entire day with my little boy, just the two of us. It'll help. It's the best we can do.

(I think I've said that once before.)