Magnetic

If you were to read my blog entries over the past years (don’t, really), you would know that my siblings and I have taken care of the elderly of our family, in all stages of life, death and that gray area in between.

We have found people collapsed in their homes, held their hands as they died, negotiated for access into their homes, slipped past police tape, found blood heirs because — while they were our relatives in love, mind and time — at their deaths, they were strangers as a matter of law.  (Love matters in life; legal papers matter in death.)

I have surrendered firearms, repatriated funds from unnamed accounts, and taken those suffering from acute dementia and paranoia to psychiatric wards and held their hands through the process.

Aging is a nasty business.

These experiences must emanate from my being.  Sometimes I think that there is a magnet implanted in my forehead in the shape of S.

S as in SCHMUCK

How do I know, you ask.  Thank you for that segue.

Just last week, I was on the phone (being all important, OF COURSE) and another call comes in.  I can tell it is an internal call, because the name flashes up.  I get an email from my assistant that someone from one of our Florida offices asked that I call back (instead of the usual: “oh I will just email her”).  I have never heard of the person so I look her up as I am dialing her back.  She works in the records department in another office so I cannot imagine why she is calling me.  No way our paths would have crossed.  I have never been to our Florida offices and it is not likely that she traveled to the New York office.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Cindy, this is [Blogger] returning your call.  How can I help you?”

“Thanks for calling back.  My brother died yesterday in New York and I need some advice.  Because he was relatively young, the police have cordoned off his apartment.”

Really, you are kidding me.  Someone with whom I have never possibly crossed paths knows to call me when there is a death in the family.  And a messy death, at that.

MY SCHMUCK MAGNET IS SO STRONG, IT DRAWS PEOPLE FROM ALMOST THE SOUTHERNMOST POINT OF THE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES.

And what is crazier?  I actually have experience in this.  Because I had an aunt who. . . . blah blah blah.

I offer advice, not as a lawyer but as a family member who went through this.  Her brother and she were not close, at all.  She wants it all to go away.

Days go by.  I email Cindy and ask about everything.

She types back:  “Oh, yeah.  He is really dead.  There is some lawyer handling this. Thanks.”

Soooooo many things wrong with that.  The obvious ones are too good to pass up:

  • of course, he is [still] dead.
  • I am invested in the outcome, but
  • in the span of three days, she has moved on.

Me? I am still in freeze frame in my own Law and Order episode.

I deserve the magnet.  But, it may be that I am the one who gets sucked in.

The truths about roller coaster rides.

The first truth about roller coaster rides is that it can be scary, exhilarating, fun and vomit-inducing, but, at its end, it delivers you to its starting point and you wobble out onto terra firma.

The second truth is that you don’t need to go to an amusement park to ride one.

Thursday began like any other day.  I was late getting to the office for a call with opposing counsel. I didn’t even try to blame the trains.  I emailed him on my subway ride to push back the call 15 minutes.

When I get out of the subway, I receive a text from Dad’s home health aide (HHA).

“Have your sister call me immediately.”

My sister, SOB (sister of blogger] is a doctor.  This is not good.  I call SOB immediately.

SOB, it’s [Blogger], call HHA immediately.  She just texted that she needs to speak with you.  Call me after you speak to her.”

I am shaking.  Is this the day?  I don’t exactly remember the walk to my office.  But as I start to turn on my computer, my ringing cell phone snaps me back.

“It’s [SOB], HHA had to call 911 because Dad is basically non-responsive.”

Is this the day that Dad dies?

SOB and I know that we have to run to Dad’s house before anyone takes him to a hospital, so we can evaluate the situation.  He is almost 94 years old and has told us, again and again, that he wants to die in his bed.  And, unless there was acute pain or discomfort to relieve, being in a hospital is only torture for a person his age.  Old age is old age.  This is not a curable condition.  It is a fact of life.

I run part of the way there.  SOB is still in traffic.   I look at Dad.  He is now alert and comfortable on the gurney.  He knows me and seems relieved I am there.  He has no pain but looks so tired.  He smiles as he does when family walks into the room.  Our embrace is awkward because he is on a gurney.

“Dad, [SOB] is coming any minute and we will figure out whether you need to go to the hospital.”

“Yes, darling.  Let’s wait for [SOB].”

The EMTs tell me all his vitals are good.  Apparently, Dad slumped over at breakfast and HHA couldn’t rouse him.  She literally lifted him and had him lean on her while she got him to his bed in his bedroom.  The EMTs said he was non-responsive when they got there but with a little rubbing on his sternum, he started to wake up.

Dad hovered between life and death and came back to life.

So, TODAY IS DEFINITELY NOT THE DAY.  Still, the crisis isn’t over until the EMTs unstrap Dad from the gurney and they leave his house.

And Dad had mentioned heart disease, so the EMTs want to take him to the hospital.

“Dad is in mild heart failure.  Who isn’t at almost 94?  There is heart disease in his family, but he takes no medications, except an evening scotch.”

And then Dad says:

“They might not get paid if they came all this way and don’t come back with a patient.”

The EMTs smile.  They understand that my father wants to do the honorable thing.  They are also a little confused by his seeming clarity in one moment and his dementia in another. The EMTs wait for SOB to arrive (G-d bless professional courtesy).

Then Dad said:

“Before we go anywhere, I have to say goodbye to my wife.” 

The EMTs look at me and look at HHA, who is 50 years his junior.

“NO, NO, NO,” I say.  “Look at the wall.  See the painting?  That is Mom in 1967.  He needs to say good-bye to HER.”

341279902308_0_ALBOMG OMG OMG.  This still could be the day.  Oh, SHIT.

The EMTs were fabulous.  One was a little circumspect, probing about my knowledge of Dad’s medical and mental state.  I appreciated his concern and we walked a little away from Dad.

“Look, my father has been exceptionally healthy his whole life.  He is at the end of his life.  If he is not in pain or gasping, why would I want newly minted doctors (it IS July, after all) poking and prodding him?  But, let’s wait for the real doctor, my sister.”

Then that EMT starts to test my knowledge of Jewish culture and Yiddishkeit. The Blogger family name is stereotypically Jewish.  And he was testing me to figure out if I understood the Commandment to honor my father and my mother.

SOB walks in and consults with the EMTs.  Then she says to both of them:

“Last time he was in a hospital, it was for a brain bleed resulting from tripping on the sidewalk.  Although he was in neuro ICU and was watched by a private nurse, he got out of bed twice and fell both times.  Since then he wanders.  A hospital is not a safe place for him.  He has terrific 24 hour care at home.  And my sister and I are each a cab ride away.”

Both EMTs understood.  The circumspect EMT (who turned out to be an observant Jew) was more comfortable when we knew some Yiddish and when we told him that we had been through this drill before and we had tended to our mother in her dying days.

He said, “We have to call the supervisor.  I fear Hashem [G-d], my wife, gobblins and my supervisor, and your dad said he wanted to go to the hospital before you both arrived.

“I get that.  Make yourselves to home.  Can we give you something to drink or eat?”

The observant Jew demurred.  The other EMT said, his wife packs food.  So I asked, “you fear both your wife and Ha-Shem on this score.”  He nodded.

The EMTs and Dad start to talk.  They ask how he feels.

“It is the end.”

“End of what, sir?”

“The end of my life.”

Those words hang in the air, until interrupted by the arrival of the supervisor.  The supervisor calls the doctor on duty.  Everyone groans.

“What’s wrong with this doctor?” I ask, thinking the nightmare has just begun.

“He’s been sued a lot.  He will want to enforce transport to the hospital.”

WAIT. WAIT. I have power of attorney.  My sister has health proxy.  We, and our 24/7 nursing care, take excellent care of Dad.  We see him all of the time.  We know his wishes, his medical history and, hell, what he eats in the diner and what he hates in a museum.  We speak to him everyday and see him every weekend.  Dad has told us what he wants and he trusts us.  And we love him.

DIDN’T YOU SEE THAT HE WASN’T AFRAID ANYMORE WHEN HIS CHILDREN ARRIVED?  THAT HE PERKED UP? HOW CAN THIS DOCTOR OVER THE PHONE ENFORCE THE TRANSPORT TO THE HOSPITAL?

Well, he did.  SOB and I would not stand for it.  Dad was sitting in a chair talking and feeling comfortable.  He didn’t need to go to the hospital.

“Call the doctor back. NOW!”

At this point the EMTs are rooting for keeping Dad home.  And I was ready to name Dr. [Blank] in a lawsuit.  After the doctor spoke to Dad, he asked to speak to the daughter who is the lawyer. NOT THE DAUGHTER WHO IS THE DOCTOR.  This is some paranoid dude.

“Yes, Dr. [Blank}.”

“Ms. [Blogger], BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH” – I made the universal hari kari sign so everyone in the room could feel my pain — “Your father could have any number of issues.”

“Dr. [Blank], he is almost 94 years old.  Can any of those potential issues be prevented by a hospital visit today? We can agree that the answer is no.  And you have our family’s thanks for not compelling transport to a hospital.  I appreciate your advice on guardianship.  Thank you, doctor.”

The EMTs cheer the outcome.  We hugged one EMT and I said to the observant Jew, “I won’t hug you or shake your hand, but I would if you weren’t observant.”

“Thank you.  In this case, I fear my wife first.  Hashem, second.”

SMART MAN, THAT EMT.

All non-essential personnel left.  I went out to get pizza for everyone.  To celebrate success after the two hours that felt like ten.  We ate.  We all sacked out for an hour.

SOB went into Dad’s bedroom to check on him.  He was glad that he stayed at home.  He was glad to have his children around and he felt loved and supported by all of his children, even though our brother lives far away.  He told SOB what a lucky man he is and what a good life he has had.  The drift toward the inevitable is beginning.

We all got up a kibbitzed.  Soon it was cocktail hour.

“Dad,” SOB started, “there needs to be a new rule in the usual [Blogger family] protocol in these circumstances:  If ambulance comes, no scotch at cocktail hour.”

Dad wasn’t so ok with it.  So I had to draw it from him.  The new addition to our protocol:

IF AMBULANCE,

THEN

58128Dad fought it tooth and nail and enjoyed the tussle with his kids.  He was present in a way he is not usually.  His mind was more clear (but still out there).  He was a little pale, but he survived.

The day turned out to be a great day, because:

We met wonderful people — the EMTs — who care about the people they help.

And, Death took a holiday of sorts for our family.

SOB and I stagger off the roller coaster.  The ride was rough but everyone survived. 

Jericho

In the Book of Joshua, the Israelites destroy the walls of Jericho by walking around it with the Ark of the Covenant for seven days, once per day for the first six and seven for last, blowing the Shofar (rams’ horn) and shouting to make the walls fall down (Joshua 6:14-15).  [Courtesy of Wikipedia].

Well, I wasn’t so lucky.  Or maybe that Jericho was an easy mark.  Jericho, Long Island ain’t no biblical anything.

I was cleaning out a storage room of deceased family friends (don’t ask), in central Long Island.

SIDEBAR:  There is a reason why their remaining worldly possessions are house in mid-Long Island.  That is for another blog (maybe not; too boring even for this blog).

Almost all of the valuables have been sold; I must go through the rest to make sure that there are no undiscovered valuables wrapped together with the bed frame.

[NYCFOB: I could not even ask your help until I gain control of the contents.]

Yes, I am insane to take such a curatorial tact with this stuff.  But they were a very special and wonderful couple, deserving of love and care even with the disposal of the detritus of their lives.

BUT THEN I HAD TO GO TO JERICHO, LONG ISLAND. A decidedly, non-biblical place.

WHYYYYYY?

The nearest Good Will drop-off was along the Jericho Turnpike.

The Jericho Turnpike.

The Jericho Turnpike?

The Jericho Turnpike was a thing a folklore, where 1970s radio advertisements told you to go to get the best deal on 8-Track tapes and Betamaxes and shag carpets [yes, yes, we are THAT old].  It WAS the place for all things advertised on the summer Top 40s radio shows.  Casey Kasem was the king of Pop and the Jericho Turnpike.

Still, still, while I am not “Legally Blonde,” I am the quintessential “Parochial Manhattanite“.

As a proud and parochial Manhattanite, I go through life without owning a car, without thinking before hailing a cab and without wondering that I am lucky that everything I want is within three blocks (or it must be delivered).

So, the CITY GIRL INVADES THE MID-ISLAND.

There couldn’t be a better horror story.

There should have been a travel advisory.

And, my rented minivan (which takes TWO parking spaces on a Manhattan street) didn’t have GPS.

AND, NO, GOOD WILL DOES NOT PICK UP EVEN IF YOU ARE UNLOADING APPLIANCES, FURNITURE, CLOTHES, ETC. IN BULK.

SO I GO TO HEMPSTEAD, ON THE JERICHO TURNPIKE (so why is it called Hempstead and not Jericho?)

And I have to look for the Sleepy’s across from something else and turn off into the mall to get to the Good Will place. [The people there seemed to be out of the good will stuff.  Just sayin’.]

Did the customer service guy ever hear of map coordinates like, say, 56th Street between First and Second Avenues???  NAAAAHHHHHH.

And, so, I have to turn off at Sleepy’s.

As if I know where the Sleepy’s IS.

As if I have GPS.

As if I could tell the difference between the Sleepy’s and the OTHER bed store across the way.

Ok, I unload all of the stuff, valuable to someone but unsaleable in the conventional sense.  Then, back to the storage room to get the rest of the items that can garner some money for the estate.

Except, I am stuck in Jericho.  Prisoner of a Biblical tale.  Without the Ark.  Without a Shofar.  Just a lot of traffic and malls.

Joshua, Joshua, Joshua!!! where are you?  Didn’t the Israelites conquered Jericho?

Then I remembered that I believe that the Bible is a written collection of oral history and legend.

OOOPS.  Bad time to be a Conservative-yet-Reconstructionist Jew

Ain’t Biblical justice a b*tch.

 

The Future is Bright

I am executrix/administrator/trustee/attorney-in-fact for quite a few in the elder generation, whether alive and dead or, frankly, somewhere in between.

When ULOB died, he had no will.  So his only heirs at law were those immediate blood relations who survived him — SOB, BOB and me.   The word, “heir,” has a connotation that one sits back and someone unknown official throws money and jewels at such lucky heir.

Now, back to reality.  There was an apartment to clean out, assets to be gathered, debts to be paid and tax returns to be filed.  And that means that at least one person has to step up and seek appointment by the surrogate’s court as administrator.  Translation:  At least one of SOB, BOB and me.

I drew the short straw.  I don’t actually think we had a contest.  I think SOB and BOB met when I was in the bathroom and decided that I was in charge.  At least they apologized.

And so, I became the court-appointed administrator for ULOB.  The gathering of assets and paying of debts were not difficult.  Figuring out the fate of the annuities that named the two women of his life — AROB and POULOB — as joint beneficiaries, was harder.

SIDEBAR:  All I can say that if AROB and POULOB had both survived ULOB and I had to divide these annuities between the two — well, I would not think so kindly of ULOB.  AROB (z”l) made life less uncomfortable by predeceasing ULOB.

And then, there are three tax returns — one for the year in which ULOB died, one of ULOB’s estate and one that I have to file as the fiduciary of his estate.  Every one of these measures different periods and sometimes counts the same money.  “Whatever,” the three of us say, it isn’t going to bring ULOB back to life so we pay unto Caesar that which the Tax Code says.

Except we didn’t know much about ULOB’s finances.  I chose to continue using ULOB’s long time accountant to make sure we covered everything.  Continuity is important in these matters,  And, because ULOB’s accountant was probably older than ULOB, I also have a lawyer overseeing things.

I sent the stuff off to ULOB’s accountant and hadn’t heard in weeks.  I emailed the lawyer, wondering if perhaps the elder CPA had  . . . .  Luckily, he emailed me that day.  “I am missing social security and pension information.  Can’t do returns without them.  Also need 1099s through date of death.”

SIDEBAR:  ULOB never had very steady work, so who knew he had a [as it turned out, miniscule] pension?  And because I am also consumed with Dad’s taxes, I forgot about the 1099 for social security.  That was my oversight.

Aaargh.  The latter request was easy.  But what pension?  And the Social Security Administration?  The mail had stopped coming long ago.  Oy Oy Oy Oy.

KILL ME NOW.  I WILL MAKE IT EASY AND LIE IN THE MIDDLE OF SIXTH AVENUE.

I looked in ULOB’s decrepit files and figured out the pension source.  But I had to email my siblings.

From: [Blogger]
To: [SOB]; [BOB]
Date: Wed, 26 Mar 2014 16:23:25 -0400
Subject: [ULOB]

 

So, I learned that [ULOB] got a pension from the Equity League.  Trying to get a 1099.  Also, on the phone with Social Security Administration for a 1099.  I am never being anyone’s executor again ever. [emphasis added]

 

I thought that was a clear statement of my intentions and future wishes.  In retrospect, I should have had a court “so-order” it.

Actually getting the 1099s were time consuming but not difficult (but absolutely bloggable –especially at the SSA office — at another time).  [P.S.: if anyone needs a guide through the morass, just call or email me.]

In four hours, I got both replacement 1099s.  In triumph, I sent an email to my siblings:

 

Got’em

[Blogger]

Sent:

Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:51 PM

To:

[SOB]; [BOB]

Went to the Equity League pension office AND the social security administration and got both missing 1099s!!!!!  I am basking the glory of a productive day.  (although not so productive from a career perspective.)

 

 

But still I do not want any more responsibilities, especially since managing the world of Dad (may he live to 120) is a constant project.  And then SOB, ever the protective older sister, sends me a reply email, gently quieting my fears about the future, all the while adding an additional burden:

[Blogger], Thank you for managing all Dad’s finances and [ULOB]’s will and finances.

I’m sorry but  I listed you as my executor, but don’t worry as we will both be demented and incompetent so you will be excused from the task. [emphasis added]

 

Love,

[SOB]

After a moment of shaking my fist at the screen, I laughed out loud.  SOB always brings me back to the proper perspective.  We will both be in our 90s (G-d willing) and then . . . who cares?  I will be executor.  No problem, SOB.  Bring it on.

The future is, indeed, bright and carefree, after all.

 

Life and Loss

I often think I am special (ok ok ok, “NO SHIT,” says the Greek chorus).

But this weekend was a reality check for the things that humans share — love and loss (and, a little gossip, but for another blog).

On Friday night, in synagogue, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.  My mom is dead and her name would be read among the so many dead.  Nothing special.  But Mom is special. 

And then SOB pointed out that Anne, who lost her mother one year ago, was there.  That wound is so fresh.  And her mom was special (indeed, she was an incredible person).

I discommoded some random individual as I made my way to Anne’s pew.  I reintroduced myself and we embraced.  I beckoned SOB, who didn’t want to start a commotion (tish, tosh) and pulled up the velvet rope to let her in through the main aisle of the sanctuary.  The usher glared at me.  I motioned “as if I care!”

SIDEBAR:  I later apologized to the usher and explained that we had all lost our mothers and this was their Yahrzeits.  She asked the names of our mothers and when I told her, she said, “I would break any rule for them.”  I decided I loved this usher like family.

It was perfect timing.  It was time to sing Sholom Aleichem, which involves joining hands and swaying in the Kumbaya sort of way.  I am glad that Anne and SOB were together in that moment.

SOB’s tears were more than I could handle during the service.  I think SOB was crying for many things, especially that Mom was not there to comfort her in the scariest moments of her life. I did not cry during the service; I cried before.  My eyes were on Dad and SOB.  Dad was happy for the company and the service.

SOB has a gentle spirit.  She wishes Mom were here; I am unforgiving.  I am mad at Mom for not being here, when her children are facing problems that no one can kiss away.

But, as the evening went on, I was humbled so many times.

First, the Yahrzeit list was filled with friends of Mom and Dad.  Sam Brodsky was also on the list.

Second, Mickie and Carolyn were there because Mickie lost his sister.

SIDEBAR: Mom, I refer to Mickie and Carolyn by their first names ONLY for anonymity, so Mom, please don’t send a lightning bolt down because I did not call them Mr. and Mrs. B—–.  I swear I was polite when talking to them. Just like you taught us.

Third, when we got home, Mimi called because it was Mom’s Yahrzeit and her husband Danny’s first Yahrzeit.  I had to prep Dad for the phone call so he would say the right things.

People remembered Mom; SOB and I were happy to hear them talk about her. But there are so many others to remember, so many people whom we loved and so many we never knew. 

And my pain and loss continue to feel acute and extraordinary, but — forgive the oxymoron — it is not different from the pain and loss that others feel.

Yes, I have learned that.  Finally, after all of these years.

Oh, no!! Another “Dear Mom”

Ok, snuggle in for some navel gazing.  If you hold your iPad low enough you can gaze at yours while you read about mine.

Dear Mom:

Tomorrow at 4:23pm, it will be 11 years since you died.

I have learned so much since then.

I have learned that your life was cut too short for your family, but it was long enough when compared to younger lives lost.  Your mission was unfinished but close enough; others never got to start theirs or, if started, they may only receive posthumous accolades.

You had a good life; you said so before you died.  You had more life in those years than many who outlived you.  And as Cousin Ricky said, life is not linear.

Still, I need you even more now than when you died.

Because life is so complicated.

And no one can replace you.

Still, I do have some perspective, I guess.

POB says I should be a type of doula — you know the person who is like a baby nurse but doesn’t let you get sleep or really do anything other than coach you through it.

She says I should be a death/illness doula.

Because I have life experience.  I know how to make it in and out of a funeral home in less than two hours, including buying the coffin and burial plot(s).  I know when to tell a mourner to stop eating during shiva because she/he will forever associate the dearly departed with weight gain.  I know when someone is making a stupid decision and I won’t hold back. I have called a bad situation “toxic” and started decontamination procedures.  And I have kept the scary relatives at bay while the mourners are composing themselves.

So, your death, and Cousin Ricky’s and Aunt Betty’s and AROB’s and ULOB’s and Dad’s brain injury, gave me strength to handle bad situations.  Not all of them.  I still turn away sometimes.

In 11 years, so much has changed.   Your grandsons are young men.  Your children are middle-aged.  Your husband is, well, less than he was.

And yet so much is still the same:  Part of me still wonders why my mother was taken away.  And parts of SOB and BOB wonder the same.

I love you, Mom.

~ Blogger

The Family of Your Family Are Your Friends

Tonight was ULOB’s tribute at Dance Manhattan, where he was a teacher and a mentor and a dancer.

We had never met ULOB’s other family — members of the dance world.  He had kept his life very compartmentalized.  A survival instinct he learned from his refugee parents.  My mother, his sister, shed some of that armor because of Dad, the happiness of her life and, I hope, her children.  But back to the mystery that is ULOB.

His dance studio wanted to pay tribute to him.  He was beloved.  But little known.  In fact, no one knew he had family or that he was a tap dancer, a ballet dancer, a Broadway dancer, a choreographer (even for the Playboy Club, Gloria Steinem forgive us) or a director, producer and writer of “Me and My Shadow” about the legendary Billy Rose.

One of the dancers said to me, “He was so giving and generous on the dance floor and so in tune with his partner, in a way that very few dancers are.  But he was not someone who chit-chatted about life and family.  That was separate.”

None knew that he was in an early production of Carousel:

Scan 16

No one knew about AROB or POULOB.  Or us.  We were as shocked at the outpouring of love in that dance studio as they were that there was family to celebrate his life and host the tribute.  Pictures of the room before it filled up:

photo 2

photo 1His age, his background, his training were all mysteries to the present day dancers.  They didn’t know his stellar credentials, his serious training, his unrecognized talent.  They knew him simply as Larry, an aging, endearing, dancer who must be have been something in his prime.

SOB and I arranged for the refreshments (wine and food) but one thing that was done solely by the studio was:

photo 3SOB and I were teary-eyed.

Who knew that others missed ULOB?  During the two-hour reception, so many told us how much he touched their lives.

The studio kept him on as an instructor until he was beyond his capabilities to teach.  But for most of his life he taught, and he learned from, his students.

He was a private man and no one will write a column in the New York Times Magazine about the life he lived.

But they should.  And they should remember him like this:

Scan 16With wild applause as he exits stage left.

Post Script

Yesterday, we sifted through ULOB’s apartment for momentos.  And lasting evidence of his life on earth. 

He has no children; his DNA doesn’t survive.  He once said to Mom, in response to her question, “Don’t you want children?”

“I have yours.”

We, his nieces and nephew, need to preserve the memory of his life.

He was a dancer, a writer, a painter and a playwright.  He said he never worked a day in his life, because he loved what he did and he would have done it for free.

We were kids and he was a giant.  Fun, hip and he adored us.  And we adored him.

And then we grew up and our worlds expanded and his contracted.  And then the old days kept us together.  But not new days.

ULOB came to my office a few months ago.  He wanted me to have his memoirs.  He looked around and was amazed at my office and the law firm.

He was proud of “the kids” as SOB, BOB and I were called so long ago.  He had never said that to me before.  I don’t know if he ever said that to my siblings.

“Baby, you deserve everything in the world,” he said in his showman way.

There we were — a seemingly penniless old dancer and seemingly successful lawyer — being proud of each other even though we made opposite choices in life.

He spent a lot of time with us after AROB died, but, ultimately, her death and his realization that he was no longer self-sufficient were too over-whelming for him to continue for long.

When we left his apartment, arms filled with his writings and pictures, I imagined him in his youth, exiting the stage to wild applause.

A mash-up of pictures through the years.  http://40andoverblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Uncle-Larry-Mobile.m4v

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:

“[Blogger]:

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.

Dear Mom

Dear Mom:

A lot has happened in these past four weeks.

SOS went to sleep-away.  The camp owners post daily pictures of the campers on a private website.  SOB looks everyday for pictures of SOS. She lives vicariously through SOS’s summer (as do I).

I have learned so much from you, Mom.  Total control without any fingerprint evidence.  My camp “boyfriend” one summer has a son who is a C.I.T. at the camp.  And he was in SOS’s bunk!  Another old time camper sent all her kids and her son is now also a CIT. And SOS knows exactly how to get to Pearl’s house if he was having a really hard time.

Spies in position? Check. 

Camper happy and yet unaware of the mini-cam and walkie-talkies?  Check. 

A mother calmed?  Yeah, no so much.  But better than I would have been.

A dear friend sends her daughter. And funnily enough, guess who SOS was sweet on? I smiled such a big smile when I received a text from my friend about their budding flirtation.

A mother happy?  Hell, yeah. 

Knowing the family of your son’s romantic interest? PRICELESS. 

And a legacy at camp?  Get the wedding planners.

SIDEBAR: SOS’s “intended one” from age 7 and her family are beloved in our family.  I am hopeful they will find their way back to each other or find wonderful partners (like my friend’s young daughter).

And the young girl was staying only half the summer and was leaving that day.  SOS hugged her good-bye and shook hands with her mom.  The most adorable sight ever.

SOS looked happy and connected when we saw him at visiting day.  He was glad to see us, but wanted to make sure we would not kidnap him to New York at half-season!!

SIDEBAR:  I miss him so much, but there was no way that I would bring him back for the shit show that was in full swing in New York City.

In proud Blogger family tradition, I did post a story about a tragedy at a different camp for the camp owners to see.  But, possibly thanks to modern medicine, I watched calmly as SOS went on a sail boat, intentionally tipped it over and then didn’t surface for a few seconds.  I took a series of pictures in real-time so SOB could freak out.  SOS was fine and safe at all times.

Do I hear you say something, Mom?  Could you speak a little louder?  OKOKOKOK, not THAT loud.  Oh, OF COURSE, he had a life preserver around his neck.  In fact he had to expend real effort to stay submerged with that thing on.  Just to test the strength of my heart valves.  Since I didn’t keel over, I guess I have good constitution.

We watched him swim and do other stuff and he seemed comfortable in his skin.  He was so happy to be in the beautiful place where you and Dad sent us for so many summers.

SOS spoke to SOB and Dad.  He was so happy to hear their voices.

And then he wanted us to hug him and kiss and reassure him that his reentry into the real world would be ok.  And then he wanted us to leave.  And I was glad for that because a kid at camp who is having fun should want his parents to leave after a while.

And as a parent, I am grateful for the right choice made.

SOB and I talked shortly after visiting day ended.  ULOB wasn’t doing so well.  We left that night to get back to the City.

Dad wanted to make sure that we did not tell him that ULOB, FOPOB and Dad are failing in different degrees.  He didn’t want SOS’s mind cluttered up with what was happening at home.  See, Mom, through the haze, Dad is still there.

Back to ULOB.  You know the story, Mom.  I made a deathbed promise to Grandpa to take care of ULOB.  And then I made the same deathbed promise to you.  Promises to keep.

But in those hours when his death was imminent, it wasn’t about those promises.  It was about ULOB and easing — in whatever way SOB and I could — his passage from life to death.

We were, in the end, taking care of a hero of our youth, in his less-than-heroic condition.  Giving back to someone who gave us so much, so long ago.  Someone who shaped our lives and senses of humor.

The funeral went as well as possible.  POULOB joined Dad, SOB and me.  ULOB thought of growing old and death as such indignities that we couldn’t let his dance-world friends see his coffin.  Everyone needs to think he is still dancing the Argentine tango someplace else.  ULOB would have wanted it that way.  We are having a memorial service soon for him where he taught dance.

SOB and I led a good service at the graveside.  BOB sent a wonderful remembrance, which we read.

SIDEBAR:  On the way up, from my conversation with POULOB, I got the distinct impression that ULOB didn’t think of SOS as his great-nephew.  It really flipped me out.  But I kept it inside.  I can’t go into it here, when that feeling is raw, but the things he said on our Saturday afternoons together recently suggests that that might be true.  But I need to think more about this and factor in all the times over the last 12 years he was in our home and try to come to peace with this.

After the funeral, I had to go to the office and could not stay for lunch.  SOB produced the money she had from ULOB’s wallet and suggested that ULOB would take everyone out to lunch — to a diner, of course.

SIDEBAR: I made a mental note that that money was in his urine-soaked wallet when SOB found him almost dead.

I asked POULOB if ULOB had listened to my advice and taken her to a nice (non-diner) dinner.  She said he had and swallowed hard before paying.  Well, then, he would certainly want to take his family out for lunch after his funeral.  I agreed with SOB.  ULOB should take everyone to lunch.

SOB had a lovely shiva on Saturday night.  It was hard on POULOB because there were so many pictures of ULOB and AROB together.  I tried to console POULOB but it was a fact of their lives.  AROB is our family.

So, Mom, another end.  All of your kids needed to talk to you about it.  ULOB is the last of those who knew you since childhood.  We took care of ULOB — for you, for him and for us.

A door is closed.  A library is lost.