Oh, the relationships we find in this City

Unfortunately, our family has frequent flyer miles at a particular funeral home.  We all hope that it will be a while until we need these services again.

ULOB was buried on Friday.  Yesterday, I received a call on my cell phone from an unrecognizable phone number.  Usually, this is not a good sign.

It was Frank, the man who assisted us in the recent burials of AROB and ULOB.

SIDEBAR:  Uh oh, I thought.  And, then, I thought, is the Grim Reaper REALLY “phoning it in”?

Frank called to make sure that we were happy with the funeral home’s services.  He also wanted me to know that he was dropping a customer satisfaction survey in the mail to me and that he is available when we were ready to deal with the headstones and any other internment needs.  Really?

I know, you are all thinking of the personal relationship I have with MiniStorage (see http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5153 and http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5168).  Well, there is another relationship I didn’t mention…..

With Disaster Masters.  When it looked like ULOB might be able to get out of the hospital and want to go home, SOB and I met with a consultant who prepares homes of elderly people for assisted care.  He has a whole shtick, he visits the house, takes pictures, gives an assessment, and tells you what he can do and what he can’t do.

“‘Clean’ is a bad word. This place will never be clean.  You see that yellow on the ceiling?  That’s from 60 years of smoking.  We are going to try to make this place habitable.  Let me state even more narrowly:  habitable so the home health attendant doesn’t do the ‘I quit dance’!!!”

And then Mr. Disaster Master demonstrated — spinning around with hands flailing in the air.

ULOB was off the respirator and possibly leaving ICU and I was so scared that he would be discharged before we had time to sanitize the place.  Mr. Disaster Master wasn’t in a rush — probably because he has seen this before so many times.  At first he only wanted to speak to me because I had power of attorney, but when I wanted him to make the place habitable whether or not ULOB ever came home, he only wanted to speak to SOB, because as a doctor, she understood the vagaries of life and post-trauma health.

I congratulated him on figuring out who was going to be his ally.  And I told him that, nevertheless, I wanted a plan after the weekend (I had given him a downpayment).

I sent him a reminder email over that weekend, to which he responded:


I need to learn how [ULOB] is doing physically and mentally.  These issues often change people.   Can he do the stairs after this trauma?  The PT and OT people should be TOLD that he lives in a tall 4 flight walkup when he gets into rehab.  These places generally only give one hour a day and ½ of that is billing time.  We want to assure that he is well up to speed. If not, then we may be looking at a downsizing move for him.  When I understand exactly what the deliverable is I will then be able to provide the right solution.  Till then we just play the what-if game and that is a waste of time for all of us.

Best, [Mr. Disaster Master]”

This guy sounds like an infomercial spokeman but, whoa, he could read a situation.

  • Anxious nieces.
  • A disgusting home.
  • A dying uncle who would, assuming that he survived the hospital stay, would surely die if he couldn’t go home to his disgusting home.

He knew so much about us — SOB, ULOB and me — in that hour that we were in ULOB’s apartment that it was eerie.

I really believe that he knew that ULOB could never go home again and he didn’t want to prey upon my willingness to throw money at the situation on the off-chance that ULOB pulled out a miracle.  It was frustrating in the beginning to feel that he wasn’t in a hurry, but he said it was because he knew his business.  And I believe that.  And he just didn’t think that his services would be needed after all.

Ron Alford (ron@theplan.com) is the one to call when needs like these arise.

He is a good man in rough city who helps people during heart-wrenching times.

Uh, oh, another “Dear Mom” blog

Dear Mom:

I know you are watching the events as they unfold down here on Earth.  Dad is remarkable in the ability of his body to heal so quickly — and just days shy of his 92nd birthday.  Ok, the mind is another thing.  That is a bit of a mixed bag.

Dad’s week has been packed with life and all of its emotions, from heart-breaking to uplifting, from triumph to quiet desperation, from funny to painful indignity.  And we, the kids, whether in person or on the telephone, have been on the ride along with him.

We went from feelings of sheer terror in taking Dad for a walk around the block (would he fall?) to POB’s dancing with Dad in the house to the sublime — a soft shoe routine in the supermarket, he with his cane (and his home aide ready to catch him) and I with a new mop that we desperately needed.  But later he couldn’t get up from the table without help and was dizzy, so he needed a long recuperative nap.  So, we will do soft shoe when we can, but we aren’t ready to go on the road. We do what he can do and no more.

We spent days going through pictures, reminding him of the family.  He is getting really good at this.  He remembers you, without any sort of coaxing.  One of his home aides told me that Dad talks about you and how he is still married to you and still in love with you, no matter that you died 10 years ago.  He told her the secret — that you appear somewhere in all his paintings.  He knows your spirit lives in the house.  And, of course, your portrait remains as evidence that this is your home.

In a weird way, I think that the home aides are a blessing.  Dad can talk to them all day.  Now I realize what life has been like for Dad these last few years.  If Dad can’t go to the studio to sculpt (he hasn’t been able to for a few months) and he isn’t with us on the weekends, the days between are deafening silent and slow.  I wanted to cry for his loneliness.  But now he sings for his home aides, offers them a cocktail (which they refuse) and the house has noise.

But there are hard moments.  Moments filled with the indignity of aging and a child having to care for a parent as if he were a baby.  And, when he is discombobulated, the air seems to fill with a toxin that hurts my lungs.  There are also less profound crises, like the day there were no bananas for breakfast and Dad was not strong enough to go to the store or be left alone.  Imagine, a reasonably successful New York lawyer unable to answer client emails because she has to bring bananas for breakfast.  Still, he asked, “how much a pound did you pay?”  “Before or after I add in the cost of the cab to hand deliver these to you, Dad?”

At least today, there was levity amidst the crazy talk.  Aunt Glue and Cousins J and K came to visit.  Aunt Glue and Dad were both a little off, but they enjoyed their conversation.  The rest of us didn’t quite understand the conversation, but I tried to let go of reality and roll with it.  Cousin J tried to correct Aunt Glue’s somewhat vague statement, and I asked her, “at this table, what does it matter?”

Aunt Glue and Dad, the remnants of our greatest generation, stronger in body than in mind, gained fortitude and joy from each other’s presence.  Aunt Glue is the only one alive who knows to call Dad by his original, Yiddish, name, Nachum.  “So, Nachy”, she said, “tell me all.”  I wanted to live in that moment because she has said that in the same way for as long as I have been alive (and longer), when they were strong and infallible and blazing the frontier.  When Dad was Dad and you were alive.

At least Dad has you, always.  As do we, your children.  But, in these moments, I wonder why I had to grow up.  I love you, Mom.  And I love Dad, come what may.

Love, Blogger