Book One — The Ending

I’ve said before that my life is like two different  books.  One is finished while the other is still being written.

Normally the first book “sits on the shelf” because I don’t want to dwell on it too much, or make my wife compete with a ghost.

Two days a year, I metaphorically pull book 1 off of the shelf and remember.  The two days I chose seem weird, but they are the ones I chose.

I could have chosen many days; the day we met, any of a huge number of things we did together, meeting her parents, meeting my parents, me asking THE question, her saying YES, our drive across country to meet our extended families, the day of the phone call that brought me the news that cancer was attacking her, the day she died.

But I chose two other days.   October 31 and May 26.

October 31, 1983 was the day her doctor recommended a “new” program called hospice.  My mom was a nurse practitioner and I knew about hospice already.  I just sat there, frozen and barely breathing, knowing that our dreams would never be.

May 26, 1984, was the day we planned for our wedding.  Our wedding was going to be on the beach at sunset and attended by a dozen or so friends and family.  That time and place was chosen because she loved the beach and loved watching the sparkles from the setting sun “dance on the water”.  The day was chosen because it was a holiday weekend.

May 26, 1984, when the sparkles from the setting sun were dancing on the water, I scattered her ashes in the surf.

 

 

My (non) Weekend

Last week I worked at my telephone company job Monday through Wednesday, then Thursday through the following Monday I worked for the federal government and then on Tuesday, I went right back to work at my telephone company job.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has several warehouses throughout the United States that have portable hospitals (and portable morgues for things like airplane crashes) all packed up and ready to ship out.  The trucks can be driven directly to the setup site, or flown (US Air Force) to an airport and then driven to the final setup site.

For this training exercise, we drove a hospital about 600 miles, dropped it off so it could be used in a training event and flew home.  The staff being trained will get to practice setting up and using the gear while the training staff is available to answer questions (and to bring up the weird things that always seem to happen on a deployment).

The training event

The above link is a video, taken a couple of years ago, that shows what goes on during the week long training exercise.  This was likely taken late in the event as things have obviously settled down and are running smoothly.

I’m glad there is a holiday weekend coming up.  I’m kind of tired.

Oh, what I do in this role…in a regular hospital, I and my staff of one would be the facilities engineers.  Once the hospital is set up, which everyone does, we take care of the hospital so the medical staff can use it to take care of people.  We are computer and IT techs, 2 way radio techs, telephone repair folks, electricians, heating and air conditioning people, generator techs, radio dispatchers, truck drivers…and more.

First Mothers’ Day Without Mom

Everyone else is writing about Mothers’ Day.  I guess I will too, even though my mom is no longer physically here.

One of my last memories of my mom was the baseball World Series.

My mom was a lifelong Cleveland Indians baseball fan.  She went to her first game, in 1924, when she was 6 years old.

A couple of years ago, when we were in Phoenix, I took her to a Cleveland spring training game and toward the end of the game, I went down by the dugout and got the attention of one of the players.  “If I can get my mom down here, could I get a picture of her with one of you?  She’s been following you guys for over 90 years.”

“90 years” caused a bunch of players’ heads to turn and Sandy Alomar walked over to ask where we were sitting.  I pointed our seats out and he said it would likely be easier for him to come up into the stands, but it would need to wait until the game was over.

Sure enough, as soon as the game was over, he hopped the fence and came up to my mom.  He talked with her a few minutes while I took some pictures and then asked if she had seen Bob Feller play. “His first game was out of town, so I didn’t get to see him until his second game.”  Mr. Alomar looked kind of surprised at the answer.

The other amazing thing were the fans.  As soon as he hopped the fence, the fans started to move toward him, but they all stopped as soon as they noticed he was making a beeline for the very elderly lady in a wheelchair and wearing a Cleveland Indians baseball cap.

Fast forward to the game 7 of the most recent World Series.  Mom and I are watching the game on TV.  She is sitting in her chair and wearing her Cleveland hat.  At the last out, mom said, “Shit!”.

That pretty much summed it up.

She died a week later.

First Time Home All Weekend

Except for a vacation and a few short deployments (a total of 8 weekends) I have been going to my parents’ house at least one weekend day each week since October 2003.  Even after my mother died, I continued to do this as I cleaned out the house so the workers could get in there to paint and install new carpet.

Today, for the first time in almost 14 years,  I did not go over there and I’m not sure if I feel relief, sad or glad; relief at having more time, sad that I can no longer visit with mom or glad that mom is no longer “imprisoned” in a failing body.

I felt similar conflicting thoughts when my fiancee died, so I guess this is normal.  No matter what, this is not something I want to go through again..but we have no choice.

I did not make it over to the cemetery to place mom’s wedding bouquet on their grave markers.  It was so breezy this morning that they would have blown away before I could have taken a picture.  So, maybe next weekend.

I did make use of the extra time by making sourdough bread.  This is the first time in many months I have done this.  The bread just came out of the oven and the house smells wonderful. My wife just sliced a piece and pronounced it “wonderful”…music to my ears.

The 2nd use of my time was cleaning out my dresser of no longer worn (or never worn) clothes.  In my job, manufacturers and engineering services firms drop by lots of shirts with their company logos embroidered on them.  I rarely wear them, and I just stick them in the dresser until I begin to have to really squeeze the stuff into the drawers.

Now that the dresser “load” has been reduced I will be able to get my clothes into the “new” dresser.  New and old are backwards this time. The new dresser dates to 1959 and was used by my parents.  The old dresser was put together in 2015. The 1959 dresser is made from solid maple and is beautiful.  The 2015 dresser is pressed board covered with wood looking “paper”.  It looks  OK, but not as nice as the maple.

Done

My mom’s house is now completely cleaned out.  The house is as bare as it was the day my parents moved in.  This time, however, the excitement of the possibilities of an empty house was not there.

During the final check to make sure I didn’t forget anything that will be in the way of the plasterers, painters and carpet layers, I found, in the back corner of a cabinet in my parent’s bedroom, a plastic bag containing a note and some dried flowers.  “2/18/46 Wedding bouquet”, is what the note said.  The flowers are in pretty bad condition, but they obviously were of great importance to my mom because she brought them along on probably two dozen (dad was in the Marine Corps) moves.

Even though they were in very bad shape, I decided to save the flowers.  As I mentioned I was going to save them, my wife gave me “the look”.  When I told her what I was going to do, “the look” stopped and said she would like to go with me.  Next Saturday, early in the morning when the breezes are calm, I’m going to the veteran’s cemetery and place those flowers on mom’s and dad’s grave markers.

Voices From the Past.

I found more memories at mom’s house; a VHS tape labeled Christmas 2002 and an audio cassette tape labeled June 1975.

The VHS tape was of my family opening gifts on Christmas day 2002.  The audio tape was made at the June 1975 reunion of my father’s family.

On the Christmas video tape, my wife had dark brown hair, I had dark hair and only a tiny bald spot, our daughter was four years old and my father, mother and father-in-law were all alive.   It was amazing looking back 15 years.

On the audio tape were the voices of all of my dad’s siblings, all of his siblings’ children and even a few grandchildren of his siblings.  Each person said “Hi” to the family, their name, how they were related and a few words about the family reunion.

As the tapes played, I was surprised that I recognized the voices of the people speaking. I suppose this isn’t unusual for my mom, dad and father-in-law, but  I’m not sure what to think about me instantly recognizing the voices of folks I met only once, more than 40 years ago.

Near the End

This past weekend, I was going to finish up getting the stuff out of my mom’s house, but I could not.  The painters had taped and masked off the doors and I did not want to mess up their work.

So, today I stopped by and got a bunch of china packed up.  According to the notes with the china, one set was used at the head table of my grandparent’s wedding (married in 1915) and the other set was used at my parent’s wedding (married in 1946).  102 and 71 years respectively. It’s hard to believe, yet I have both marriage certificates.

I have the china, a dish hutch to hold the china, a bed, a beautiful glass front bookcase and some pictures to get out of the house sometime before April 25.

That’s it.  Nothing more.

The house is now painted, the roof was inspected and the few needed minor repairs were made and most of the outdoor landscaping is done.  Starting next week, the carpet will be replaced and the interior will be painted….then it will be time to sell the house.

When the house is sold, Mom’s and Dad’s life will have been “cataloged and put up on the shelf”.