The Wreckage

Mom’s and Dad’s house is empty of the objects that made it our home.  In fact, worse — the built-ins have been torn down with the most ginormous crowbar and sit as wreckage in the living room. 

The apartment looks like sullied shambles of an ordinary place. 

But it isn’t ordinary.  It is where our young lives happened and generations argued and celebrated, laughed and cried, welcomed new life and mourned those who died. 

And it is ok that realtors fix a value to a life-battered, empty, and unrenovated space.  The price is what the market will bear.  Memories don’t add value.  How could they?  They are only priceless and unique to us who lived them.  And those memories — the love and hurts and pain and epiphanies (few) — don’t live there.  They live in the three of us — my siblings and me.

So, on Saturday, as we schlepped the last boxes of slides and books that HOSOB (husband of sister of blogger) so lovingly packed up, POB (partner of blogger) asked me if I wanted to take down the mezzuzah on the doorpost of house.

I couldn’t.  At the time, I didn’t understand my visceral “nooooooo!”

Later, I realized that removing the mezzuzah was the final, symbolic gesture that would transform my parents’ home to a vacant apartment up for sale.

But, at the time, I knew it was too much for me to bear.  And too much to do alone.  It was a moment that needed all of us kids to do.

So, I will wait for SOB (sister of blogger).  Next weekend, she and I, with our brother on the phone, will take down the mezzuzah.  We, three.  Together. 

And, we, three, together, will close a chapter. 

Memory and Meaning

Memories. 

“So beautiful and yet, what is too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.”

Barbra Streisand is right.  She sings the definition of nostalgia — a glossy overview of the truth.

Today, I was alone in Dad’s apartment.  Mom’s and Dad’s apartment.  My siblings’ and my home.  55 years of life and memories and stuff.

Alone.  With the walls that talk. 

While I unscrewed the extra shelves in the closets and bathrooms, in preparation for the walls to be skim-coated and painted, I was bombarded by memories — some good, some great, and other not-so-much. 

Teenage years.

Being gay before Mom and Dad accepted me.

Other painful times, just because parents and children don’t always (or often) get along.

I think the physical activity of cleaning made it easier to process the memories. 

And, I was afraid of some of them, because they do not fit the vision of perfect parents of my blogs  — an assault on my revisionist memories.  My “truth” of later years.

And with all of it,

the teenage “I hate you, FOREVER” moments and

the moments of abject despair as Mom and (to a lesser extent) Dad seemingly turned their backs on me because I was gay,

it all turned out ok.  (We all figured it out.  They forgave me for being gay and I forgave them for needing to forgive me.)

Our parents loved us.  And we loved them.  And no one was perfect.  And we were safe in our homes and knew that every resource would be available for us.

Why am I nostalgic?  Because through the shit times, Mom and Dad were present and connected (not always in the way we wanted).  But, when we needed them, they were there. 

I often wonder if I will measure up to their commitment when tested.

So, I was bombarded by memories of shouting, anger, etc. today, and still I think I am incredibly lucky. 

So, to Mom and Dad, on Mother’s Day — thank you both for nurturing me and standing by me (almost always), whether or not you agreed or approved.

I love you.

Last Passover to this Passover

Last Passover, Dad was not well enough to attend.  That freaked me out. 

And, in one of those moments that, even then, you realize are precious, prescient, and Heaven-sent, BOB (brother of Blogger) decided to come North and bring his sons to Seder.

It had been more than 35 years since BOB, SOB (sister of Blogger) and I had shared Seder.  And the last time, we had both parents, scores of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great aunts and uncles. 

With Dad’s absence feeling like a foreshadow of recent events, I was so grateful to share Seder with SOB and BOB. 

Like the old days. Only not at all. 

We were older.  The traditions meant more.  The togetherness was special. 

The years in between had smoothed our rough edges. 

Ok, just mine. 

Ok, Ok, Ok, only SOME of mine.

We had come full circle — us, kids — and found togetherness in our religious traditions.

This year, we won’t all be together.  But I will carry my visual memory of last year — looking around the Seder table at my siblings, all of us gray-haired (if left untreated), carrying on the traditions handed down through the generations.

And, even though, we won’t all be together for this Passover, that memory sustains me.  Because we have reconnected, in life and in tradition.

Hey, bro, next year, OK?  We will miss you and your family something awful.

Home

Home. 

Just the word evokes a sigh of relief. 

It has a different meaning — perhaps more than one — to each of us and, even that meaning may change over the course of time and our life experience.

Lately, I have been thinking about what home means to me.  And I know it is affected by the passing of Dad and, with him, the last of our elders.

Home is physical and emotional.  Two physical places — an apartment on the east side, where I was raised, and an apartment on the west side, where we raise our son.  Together, they are where I feel safe and where memories of the generations dance in the ether.  They are my past and present, and they indicate my future. 

And home is the place where Mom’s portrait hangs, as it has for literally 50 years in the home of my youth.  [One of Dad’s sculptures is in the foreground.]

I am unsettled that this will be the first time we kids don’t have a common place.  A place where the three of us belong and that belongs to us.

I think we need to figure out a place for Mom’s picture, in one of our homes. Because that is where the memories of Mom and Dad, our aunts, uncles and grandparents, will dance in the ether, and where we can feel safe and loved.

Because, without that, home is incomplete.

The Hilarity In the Darkest Moments

In the last 10 or so conscious days of Dad’s life, he was present in a way that he hadn’t been in more than a year. 

He slept a lot.  And he seemed to dream because he smiled and reached out his arms.  I hoped that he was talking to Mom. 

But when he was conscious or semi-conscious, he was able to respond to our questions and if one of us said, “I love you,” he would respond in kind.

This was a gift to his kids in his final days.  

First, a back story:

BACK STORY:  Cocktail hour (with hors d’oeuvres) was a time-honored tradition in our family.  As old world as that sounds, we are Jews and so it was Jewish all the way — mostly food and a little alcohol.  Scotch was the drink of choice.  And the food was white fish salad, pickled herring, eggplant salad and, in a nod to the “new country,” mixed nuts.  Ok, so some affectations but we never forgot our roots.  In later years, Dad would alternate between scotch and wine.

So in those last days, we celebrated with Dad, as much and as often as was safe.  And we toasted his life.  Unfortunately, the serving set was less than ideal . . . .

So we all had wine together (scotch would have been too hard to handle).  And we hung out in Dad’s room.  (And when he slept, we had MORE.)

About five days before Dad died, when he was essentially unconscious, SOB (sister of blogger) had the brilliant idea to move a mattress in Dad’s room so that the three kids could be right there any case anything happened. 

SIDEBAR:  The usual night aides — wonderful women — helped us change him when needed and mostly slept in another room.

As I was helping SOB move the mattress, I looked at her and said, “You are on the other side of crazy.  And I am even more crazy for helping you.”  SOB nodded in a way that indicated, “true,” and was pleased that I acknowledged the sibling pecking order of — let’s say loosely — “sanity”.

BOB (brother of blogger) wasted no time throwing himself on the mattress and falling asleep.  SOB and I rolled him as necessary to make the bed.  SOB got on the mattress and beckoned me in the middle.

WAIT. STOP.  My brother tosses and turns and my sister wakes up at the slightest noise.  Is this 45 years ago and am I in the middle in the back seat of the car on family trips, feeling nauseated and poked and pinched by BOB?  Are you kidding me? 

“Nah, I just sleep on the comfy floor.”

“Are you sure?  There is enough room.”

“Yeah.  I’m good.”

Over the course of that first evening of Dad’s effective unconsciousness, Dad’s breathing changed to a Cheynes-Stokes rhythm — no breath for an insane amount of time and then four deep breaths.  Repeat, until you almost kill your children.

So, as you can imagine, that first night, SOB is lunging over BOB to check Dad’s pulse while I am watching wide-eyed and scared because Dad is not breathing.  And then he would start breathing again.

At dawn on each of those days, I would pick up my pillow and blanket and go into a different bedroom to sleep a few hours.  SOB would go to Dunkin’ Donuts.  BOB would continue going through photos.  Rinse. Repeat.  Wonder about sedation. FOR US.

And so it went.  And we shifted sleeping places over the nights. Because, we had some sanity left in us.

Dad died at 2:48am on a Friday with his kids around him.  No one pronounces a person dead, like in the movies.  You just watch it.  And let the enormity of it wash over you.  

Yep, there is pain.  But Dad had a good and long life.  There is no tragedy here.  There is no anger.  There is, in fact, guilty joy for being able to celebrate a long life well-lived.  An embarrassment of riches.

Ok, because I need to bring it back to humorous. 

Here are things I learned:

  • BOTH BOB and I snore.
  • Do not want to get between SOB and any patient.  Every now again I let my head get in the way of her arm reaching to feel Dad’s pulse.  A painful mistake.
  • BOB thinks I pick wine based on the freakiest or stupidest name.  He may be half-right.  My real goal was to make sure when Dad was drinking his last “cocktail”, we were giving him a good send off home to Mom.

And now I have to get all emotional. 

The greatest lessons I learned are:

(i) we siblings need our own bedrooms,

(ii) we have the craziest memories of childhood and they are all different,

(iii) we siblings are in sync in a crisis, and

(iv) SOB and BOB are the finest people anyone could ever hope to meet.

Yes, SOB and BOB are the finest people anyone could ever hope to meet

I am the luckiest person ever.

True North On the Road to Siberia

I have been generally quiet these past few months about Dad.  Out of respect for him and his privacy.

But, let’s be honest: a mouth as loud as mine can only be still for just so long.

Today’s events are par for the course for so many of us.  We try to preserve our parents’ dignity, by putting cash and credit cards in their pockets and remotely monitoring the financial doings, ready to step in at any sign of trouble.  We also hire lovely, underpaid people to handle our parents so that we don’t have to give up our lives to care for them.  One such lovely person left Dad alone for 10 minutes while she changed over the laundry.  He didn’t leave the apartment (thank G-d) but when she came back, he was on the phone giving his credit card number to someone.

REALLY, Dad?  Really, Heather?  Heather, can you just take him with you to the laundry room?  Dad, could you just speed dial your children instead of handing over personal information to anyone who calls?

Ok, Heather invokes the Blogger family data breach protocol, which means she calls the daughter least likely to curse, but also least likely to know what to do.  And that sends the cell towers buzzing.

Ring, ring, ring, on my cell.  “Hey, [SOB — sister of blogger]!” trying to sound cheery even though I know that a call during the day at the office cannot be good.

Ok.  So, Heather calls my sister who calls me.  I decide not to call my brother, BOB, because, while creating a national frenzy has some appeal (he lives pretty far away), I have the information to handle the data breach.  And why give another person indigestion?  [BOB, sorry you are reading this on my blog, but if I told you, in real time, you would have (rightfully) invoked Blogger family LOCKDOWN protocol, and that would have really sucked.  Besides, I am redecorating the bunker.]

First credit card:  only an endless loop of robotic voices.  But I got it cancelled in less than 20 minutes.

I know what you are thinking, Blogger is a rock star.  She is making this elder care seem like a walk in the park.  And I am so feeling the need to put on my sunglasses on a cloudy day in New York.

Second credit card:  Same company.  This time a real person.  Whoa.  This will be a cake walk.  I need darker shades because my light is so bright.

“I am sorry, but your information appears nowhere on this account.”

“I have power of attorney.  I have had it for years.”

“I am sorry but we need your father on the line.”

After much back and forth about the information on the customer service computer screen and the facts of life, I conference in Dad.

It was the crazy ordeal you would expect.  Heather got on the phone to make sure it was ok that Dad was talking on the phone about his credit card.  [SOB, she redeemed herself.]  Dad did what he needed to do and then hung up.

“Ok, we can cancel this card and issue a new card, but I will have to ask you a few questions.”

I am soooo ready for this. Sunglasses on. Check.

“What are the first three letters of your father’s mother’s maiden name?”

“ITZ”

Silence.  It had to be right because I used it to cancel the card with robot customer service.

“That is not correct.”

What is this?  F#$%ing JEOPARDY?

“Itzik or Itsik.  It is my grandmother for Goodness sakes!! Itzik  Itzik  ITZIK

Itzikkkkkkkkkkkk. Or it could be spelled with an “s” I suppose,” said I meekly.

Silence.

And it worked for the efficient robotic customer service that canceled my other [Bank name] card in a snap.

Yep, I threw it down.  Hard.  I can be (sort of) charming and then, presto, like a light switch, not so much.

What am I, an idiot? [DO NOT answer.]

“You will have to answer the following [trick] questions so we can verify that your father’s authorization was really to his daughter and you are in fact his daughter and he is in fact the card holder [and totally mess you up and enjoy doing so].”

“I am not charging anything.  I am trying to cancel something. But, ok, ask.”  I shouldn’t have added that verbal swagger at the end.

What am I, a schmuck? [DO NOT ANSWER.]

“I am sorry but you answered one or more questions WRONG.  I will need to conference in a security adviser.”

Brief hold with bad music.

“M’am, I have another person whose job it is to make your day miserable.  She will need to speak to your father again to authorize this next level of security.”

Are ya kidding me?

“It would be too confusing for him.  Aren’t there super-secret decoder ring-type questions you can ask me?”

“No, m’am.  We need to speak to your father.”

“No, you will not.”  And hung up.

What am I, the stupidest person ever? [DO NOT ANSWER. ZIP IT.  ZIP IT.]

It was too much.  I could not say why I needed to cancel the card.  I was trying to gloss over my dad’s infirmities.  I was trying to protect him.  And me.

So, what did I do?  I threw my phone against the wall and cursed in frustration.

DO NOT SAY IT. BUT, YES, YES, I AM.

When the future loss seems real right now

I have chronicled Dad’s decline, and his surprising cameos in reality.

Something has changed.  I couldn’t articulate it until I bumped into SOB (sister of blogger) in the gym locker room.  Because why not discuss our deeply personal business when naked women are blow-drying their hair, I said:

“Something is different with Dad”

“He is winding down.  It is sad.”

“It isn’t just his heart failure —

SIDEBAR: everyone over a certain age is in heart failure.

— have you noticed that he doesn’t annoy us so much anymore?”

We both had a think about that.

Dad was once a maestro at making us nuts.  When Mom was dying, we knew that we would move in and disrupt our lives to care for her.  Dad was different; he was too damn annoying.

Now, we are talking about taking turns staying over (along with his 24/7 care) if necessary.

What is different? 

Dad is now a lovely old, nutty man who has — maximum — two or three habits that make SOB and me nuts.  That’s it.

Wait. 

Whaaaaat?

WHERE IS THE MAN WHO, WITHOUT EXERTING A MUSCLE, COULD MAKE ME NUTS BY TALKING ABOUT THE PRICE OF BANANAS OR COMMENTING LOUDLY ON OVERWEIGHT PEOPLE ON THE BUS? OR COULD BE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE WHEN A CAB DRIVER WAS TALKING ON THE PHONE INSTEAD OF ASKING HIM TO END HIS CALL?

Yes, the change.  Dad being Dad as he is now doesn’t make me nuts.  (Dad’s dementia, however, makes me sad, mad and crazy.)

I wished that my father would stop torturing me all these years.  Now I understand the maxim: “careful what you wish for” because the quid pro quo in my case is too heartbreaking.

Thankfully, dementia is not linear.  The old Dad shines through sometimes.  Just this weekend, in advance of Thanksgiving, where we serve brisket instead of turkey, he asked:

“Did you remember to get the lean cut of brisket and did you find someone who knows how to carve it?”

Oh, Dad, the miracle of your annoying ways made my eyes well up when I responded:

“Daddy, I am good at a lot of things, but not carving brisket.  You may have to deal with the usual thick slices, ok?”

Pause.  Silence.  Resignation.  “Of course, darling.”

Ah, the gifts that can light up an evening sky.

Trumpet in the Time of Migraine

I heard he played a good song . . . .

Ok, that is from Killing Me Softly.  A classic song that alludes to a song — not actually sung — that speaks of a woman’s (or every woman’s) hopes, desires and yearnings.

My son is learning to play the trumpet.  I was having a migraine.  We live in a NYC apartment.  “Killing me softly” were not the words that came to mind.

Torturing me screeeeeeechingly, but please kill me quickly.

In truth, my son is getting better (even said the curmudgeonly upstairs neighbor).

But if this be the music of love? (asked someone in a Shakespearan play).

Then stick a sock in it.

Love my child?  Of course.  Every tone that come out of his mouth?  Nah.  I have evolved from the true Yiddisha mama.

 

Dear Dad,

These days, I keep thinking of the old times.  How you were so playful when we were toddlers, too strict when we were teenagers, my rock during the turmoil of my twenties, and, along with Mom, your kids’ greatest cheerleader.

Sometimes I think that I see the glimmer of the old you.  Beneath the bizarre outfits and the confused talk.

Our weekend of celebrating your big birthday was wonderful.  (After 90, they are ALL big.)  Sometimes you didn’t really understand what was going on, but you were happy that your family was around you.

10630568_10202625072736212_3324593164443517949_o(And you knew to wear the appropriate outfit your aide set out for you.)

And I know you didn’t need the luncheon to be in such a fancy place.  I know if we said, “Dad, we are coming over and we are eating cardboard for dinner [fiber-rich],” you would say, “how wonderful! I can’t wait to see you.”

But you might worry about whether you would get an evening cocktail.

And so I know you have not lost your mind completely.

In the light of day, you know you get confused at night and, appreciating the humor, refer to the nighttime aides as your guards.

Your kids prefer the term, body guards.  So, let’s use that term, shall we?

Today, you were mostly discombobulated and, yet, and yet, you were ready to go to the aid of an old friend whom we didn’t see in the diner today, and whom the waiters hadn’t seen since last week.  You called him to pay a visit and bring food.  In a clutch moment, the old you comes shining through.  (P.S.:  Sam is ok.)

This is a hard road, Dad, for all of us, and, most of all, for you.

And yet.

And yet, even in the waning days of your life and the continuing diminishing of your faculties, the essential you shines through.

You won’t ever read this.  But I had to write it.

I love you, Dad.

~Blogger

P.S.:  See you tomorrow, Dad.  Same time.  Lunch.  But let’s change it up a little; let’s order something different.  Because I cannot watch you try to put jam in your coffee or on the tomato slices that comes with your usual order of scrambled eggs.

 

 

 

Hello! Yes, it has been a while. Part 1

I hope everyone had a good summer.

Time for Fall.  Time for the Jewish High Holy Days.  Time to sit in sack cloth and ashes and mourn the long sunny days and the sultry nights of summer.  And that my summer was not anything like the summers I remember when I was younger.

I have learned many things this summer, some profound and some not so.  All important.

Dad continues a slow downward trajectory but never loses the essential elements (and annoyances) of the man he is.  Dad called me one morning.

SIDEBAR:  how DOES he call on my cell phone and office phone simultaneously???

He was quite fussed about the bank calling him about credit and debit cards, etc.  He couldn’t understand what the caller was saying.

Dad, I will call Chase and find out.  Did you give the caller any information?

No.  Nothing, but the caller seemed to know all my card numbers.

That’s a good sign, Dad.  There is no odd activity on your accounts [I have them linked to mine and pulled them up while we were talking].  I will call and find out and call you back.”

Thank you, darling.  I feel so much better.  You will call me right back?

I have a colleague in my office and a deadline, but this is my dad.  “As soon as I get some answers.  Don’t worry I am ON it.

I call.  Chase is being cautious with recent security breaches, and is sending my father all new cards.  I asked about any odd activity because what I see on the computer looks to be in real time but there may have been odd charges rejected.

I am sorry, M’am.  I will need your father on the line to answer these questions.

I have power of attorney.  His accounts are linked to mine.  Why do we have to involve my Dad?

This has to do with his profile.

I have no idea what this means.  The most important aspect was that for all of the planning, for all of the day-to-day handling of my father’s affairs, there are some places I cannot go without his express permission on tape.

I LEARNED THAT WE NEED TO MAKE BANKS ISSUE “FORMS OF POWER OVER EVERYTHING, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, WHATEVER” so that we can sign these and be finished with the chaos.  Because there is the law and there is banking law.

I call Dad back on a three-way conference.

Dad, I have you on the phone with Chase, so that I can talk to customer service about our inquiry.

Don’t you already have that authority?

SIDEBAR:  I love that Dad can still identify stupidity, even in dementia.  Which really makes a person wonder about banking in general.  (Sorry, Mighty.)

The woman talked, doing her level best to ascertain that my father was who he was, etc., but he was too stressed and needed a familiar voice to prompt him.

Dad, Stacy needs your name. Dad, would you tell her your name?

Dad“.

SIDEBAR:  I love that Dad thinks that being dad is who he is.

Daddy, that is great.  Can you give your full name now??

So, he pretty much got the information right.

Dad, that last question was do you give me, [Blogger], permission to talk to Stacy about your affairs.

Of course; I thought we did that already.”

Ok, Dad, you can hang up now and I will call you back shortly.”

Ok, darling.  I love you.

I love you, Daddy.  Thanks.  I will call you back soon.

All was ok.  I resolved the matter and recapped with Dad.

I am a lucky man, to have the kids I have.

We are lucky.  These things are complicated and we can do this for you.  And we want to do this for you.

With nothing to worry about, I might live past 120!!

Don’t worry, Dad, we have that covered, too, but your children will be on social security, so we will have to pool resources. . . .

Another day, another problem resolved.

WHAT I LEARNED (AGAIN):

  • Little kids, little problems.
  • Big kids, big problems.
  • Aging parent, a combination of both and . . .

And I can only hope that, from day-to-day, there are mostly little problems until the day that it is THE BIG PROBLEM.