Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Benefit that is not Beneficial

An open letter (sent to NMCSD, UT...):

I realize that the armed services are very busy and that many of the pharmacy employees have been deployed.

However, it is unacceptable and causes HEALTH PROBLEMS when patients cannot get their refills completed in a timely fashion.

As directed, I refill my prescriptions through the computer system, which tells me the earliest possible day I can make a request. Refills are not authorized until I have less than 10 days of medication left. I note the date go through the system on the day the computer allows me to enter the request and then wait for the bottle to come in the mail. Unfortunately, my medication runs out before the new bottle arrives.

I use the mail system because I am tired of waiting between one and three hours in line at the pharmacy at the Naval Medical Center of any of its ancillary sites to get my medication. The cost of the co-pay is going to be an additional hardship, but seems necessary.

I finally was able to speak with a Navy pharmacist assistant after trying for two days and being told by a computer that the hold time would be 45-60 minutes, and was told to try calling the pharmacy if the computer did not let me make the request when I had only ten days of medication left. This completely defeats the purpose of using the computer system, as I would have to wait on hold for almost an hour and still go to the Medical Center and wait for hours to get the medications.

My husband is a retired USMC DISABLED VETERAN amputee and we deserve better treatment than this substandard service, given all that we have sacrificed for this country. Despite the additional cost, I will have to transfer my prescriptions to a private pharmacist so that I can facilitate care for our medical needs and not risk running out of crucial medications. I am very disappointed and expected better from the Navy.

Thank you for your consideration,

Nothing to do...

I wish.

But there is nothing I CAN do about a lot of stuff I want to be able to do SOMETHING about.

Like Oakley being sick.

Or Justin's mom being sick and then dead.

Or Justin being sad.

And all those other people who are also sad.

And me being so ...whatever it is that I am... Me.

And Oakley's mom being sick and dying.

I want to change all of those things, except for maybe the part about being Me. I'm getting to kinda like that girl.

But there is so much that is unfair in this world and it is so sometimes (usually) hard for me to accept that I can't make it all better that it bums me out.

So I sit on my couch and stew and blog and stare.

Luckily, tomorrow my parents are coming over to rescue me (and Justin) from myself.

Justin and I have been living in LA (essentially) for the past two months. We haven't been home for a weekend together (Memorial Day he went on a bachelor party cruise and I stayed home, but the rest of the time we've be in LA) since April 28--and we spent that day cleaning. Since then, we've dashed home, gone to sleep, to work, to sleep, etc., re-packed our bags and gone back to LA. We've made the trip during the week, on the weekends and for two weeks in a row. I still haven't fully unpacked from our return because I was A) too tired, B) working when Justin was sleeping) C) the reverse, and D) unconcerned. I've been getting other things done. Important things, photo related things. The Espresso Garden menu. Work. Dog walks. Sleep-drug induced sleep.

Anyway, we all need to send good vibes Oakley's way because in her zealous caretaking way she has gotten a bit ill, and so now she's flying to Thailand with an ear infection. She'll make it though.

I think we should have matching Wonder Woman shirts. I think I might buy them tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


It's all I want for Christmas. Plus maybe my two front teeth [to be straight].

Just kidding.

But by some miraculous act of God I ended up getting tonight off instead of hostessing. I came home planning to finish all the cards, pack for the wedding & wake weekend and go to sleep early. But apparently I'm that kind of tired that freezes a body and races the mind--lots of things seem like a good idea, but actually doing them gets a little confusing. Like if I had packed tonight, I would have to have unpacked my suitcase from the one modeling job of the week, plus I just finished unpacking the suitcase from the weekend, so it seems like I am a pro at packing... so why bother. But this isn't going to help me get four dresses north of San Diego. Plus last wedding's shoes gave me blisters I still have and I was planning on wearing them for this wedding... but...

I did however print out directions to get to all of the places this three-day wedding extravaganza requires--and since I have to drive myself that's important. That's right, I have to go a day early to represent my couple at the rehearsal dinner--Justin can't come up until after his Pediatrics Test on Friday morning.

Hopefully he's somewhere further than the 5% of studying he thought he had done yesterday, but if he is it's by osmosis or quick learning or something he did while I wasn't looking. As far as I can see, he got a little better at a computer game.

He's tired too. We should have just gone to sleep, instead of pretending we were accomplishing anything.

The good thing is, I got all my shifts covered, so now I don't have to worry about going out of town. I should try that sleeping thing now...

Oh, and Mommy definitely can't make everything better, but she can make pasta salad, so hoorah.

A couple more wedding photos for Jason and Amanda... just because... :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I suppose I don't understand Oakley's cooking therapy because I don't actually like to do anything involving the kitchen. Even opening the fridge seems like a bit of work to me--never know what you'll find in there... though even though I do the grocery shopping I open the door hoping for, well, more.

My mom and dad are getting home from their European vacation today. Thank God! I want my mommy!

I try not to use the latter phrase in front of Justin (or Oakley), but it's true. I want my mommy. At my aunt's funeral her 40 or 50-something son admitted to feeling that way still when he got sick, remembering how she used to take care of him and even though he was married (again) still yearning for his mother's comforting touch.

Fortunately, through hours of therapy, I have rethought my expectations and lowered them significantly. Sure, seeing her will probably bring the same reaction it brought twice when Justin was in the hospital (the month after we got married, when he almost died from an amputation-related bone infection) and she came to San Diego to help me with the sudden situations (ER & MRI moments, specifically.) I held it together until she arrived, and then on first sight I burst into tears.

But I know Mommy isn't going to really be able to do much with this one. Sure, the help with maybe some packing up of stuff and with preparing for the wake will be useful, but I am no longer such a fool as to believe she will make all the hurting go away. Not that it's her fault--it's apparently not really possible, but there are no right words to say; there is no way for anyone to truly understand my perspective or all that has happened since I met Justin and then his family. Also, no one can truly understand how another person feels about anything, so family, friends and therapists are just little release valves for the pressured heart.

I keep thinking of the directions given to passengers to follow in an airplane if the oxygen masks deploy--you have to put your own mask on before you can help anyone else. Even then you're still pretty much limited to the range of the mask's tether of tubes--you can't help others very much at all. All you can really do is try to keep on breathing.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Who turns down chocolate cake?

Oakley offered to cater/bake for the wake. That's how a girl can tell her super true friends.

The day before the wake she has AIDS Walk Long Beach. She's been trying to raise $2000 with her Lesser Weevils team, and a major part of the fundraising involves her baking the most amazing chocolate chip English toffee cookies known to man and woman.

Also, her mom is chasing Toni down the same path and Oaks is flying to Thailand soon, plus she's got work stuff and her friend Celeste got burned by and exploding pyrotechnic effect gone wrong at another co-worker's wedding (see for details--it's all worth reading about).

So of course I was going to refuse her offer. "I'm not adding to other people's stress with my own stress. It's bad enough I have to deal with it."

"Sometimes people want to help so that they can forget about their own problems," Justin reminded me. "They just want to do something."

Remembering my desperate need to help... well, almost anyone I ever encounter... I agreed.

Besides, who turns down chocolate cake?

Now, I'm almost tempted to call all my friends and beg for help: "Oh, woe is me! Will you please _______?" Hehehe. Yeah, right.

But I think that, I mean, I know that I will let Oaks and my mom help me with whatever they can help me with as far as noshing goes. I'm still working on the slide show, but I do look forward to the Costco run. As I told Justin, we've got the "C-H food group covered": cheese, chips, chocolate. (And other stuff too... come for the love, stay for the food.)

The Potato Eaters

I've been thinking about rewriting the classic and calling it Poo Eaters, but I'd have to re-read the story to make sure that there is some parallel other than the alliteration in the title.

Yaz and Stan's humans feed them a regular diet of very healthy dog food--no cheap fake foods there, no sirree... these puppies are the babies of this family... they are my borrow puppies and I am their borrow mommy... they are our favorite people.

But they eat poo.

Yaz especially snatches it and then hides it in her mouth until she thinks I'm not watching her--then she chews and swallows. She's like a kid stealing a piece of candy from the bulk candy section in the grocery store. The first few times she wasn't so discrete, and I tried to wrangle it from her mouth--without touching--but it's futile.

And dangerously disgusting.

It's bad enough I have to pick up her poo, leave alone risk touching some cat's shit.

For a while I was doing a really good job of keeping her from it. I developed this elaborate scheme of tucking my foot under her chin whenever she started thoroughly investigating the dirt or the grass, then I'd gently lift her little face up and away and we'd keep walking. I also have grown to recognize the differences in her posture when she walks--there's the "I'm hunting for squirrels/cats/birds" posture, which must be met with "no, no, you know better than that, no barking" and a preparation to hold on tight and pull. Then there's the "I'm checking out this place to see if it's good enough for me to poo" posture, which involves making little circles in the area. When she does this dance Stan and I are very polite and look away, having our own little conversation while Yaz takes care of business. (After which she has the nerve to pull on the leash because she wants to avoid the smell of her own shit, which, as I've mentioned, I have to pick up. This uppity behavior from a dog who eats cat shit.)

Stan on the other hand loves to run into the tall grasses--the fancy multicolored brown and tan or green bladed grasses that the people with gardens around here plant in lieu of flowers or trees. He's like a kid in a department store diving headfirst into the rack of clothing, as if Narnia just might be on the other side. The only thing that sets kids apart from him is that they usually play hide-and-seek in there, but he lifts his leg and pees. Sometimes he tries to act all dignified by holding his well-groomed Airedale head up high while he scrapes back his paws to cover his tracks. It's hard to buy his dignified act though, because afterward he rushes to catch up to Yaz and inevitably crashes into my legs or hers. Plus, sometimes while he's peeing he loses his balance, and has to scamper to avoid falling. I want to support his masculine pride, his attempts at machismo, but it's laughable.

He too eats poo, after all.

But today at the Garden a woman who knows an extraordinary amount about animals--she's even friends with a dog communicator--told me that dogs eat cat poo so that they can get more protein and that it's really better to feed them fresh raw meat than store-bought dog food--even the expensive kind. Like give them chicken. And blended fresh steamed vegetables--her dog won't eat them if they're raw. "You can add a little kibble," she said, but Kiibbles 'n Bits alone definitely wouldn't cut it in her household. She says the dogs' need for protein is natural and cat-shit eating is their instinctive way of reaching their dietary needs.

She read it somewhere.

I can't quite picture wolves eating lion and tiger shit, but maybe wolves get enough protein from the carcasses they consume.

I know this woman is probably right, yet I just can't see my way clear to actually carrying out her instructions. I'm the kind of woman who would feed a baby, well, baby food. The kind you buy in a jar. Now I'm contemplating the probability of people who are so busy that they pay me to feed and walk their dogs (yay us!) actually cooking for their dogs. We're talking about people who don't even cook much for themselves. We're talking about very good, very kind, very busy people. Understand that as I type this blog I am eating leftover spinach tortellini that took 7-9 minutes to cook after the water came to a boil. I poured the marinara sauce on it from a bottle. I am having "real" dinner only because I made it for lunch on Saturday (part of the cheese-panic-shopping food still available at mom and dad's house), otherwise, I'd be eating more cheese and crackers. Understand that a woman who is a CEO and in law school and I, the wife of a medical student, have discussed (while the puppies ate) the fact that we have scientifically proven we can live on pizza, burritos, peanut butter cups and mochas alone for at least one if not two weeks.

People like me--these are the people who are supposed to cook for the dogs?

I suppose if we maybe cooked the chicken and didn't puree the vegetables we could eat home-cooked food too... but who's going to go to the grocery store?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Oceans of Sadness

Apparently the Ocean of Sadness is composed primarily of gin and tonic with intermittent shots of tequila. Jack has also splashed around in there, not to mention the Captain and his evil cronies Jager and vodka in a variety of sweet disguises.

At this point, Justin and I are so blurred from the past couple of months that we can't really see more than that requisite foot in front of the car when you're driving through fog (metaphor credit to Anne Lamott).

And that's when we're sober--which is most of the time.

Today I woke up horrified that I had missed his birthday (June 25) because I remembered that it falls after one of the weddings we are attending this month. Fortunately, I quickly recalled that it is after the second wedding, so I am in the clear thus far.

Jason and Amanda got married... was it yesterday? Yes. Yesterday (today is Sunday, June... 17. Father's Day.). While any gathering involving their friends and family usually involves seriously heavy consumption of alcohol, weddings are not typically a time that Justin loses his composure. In fact, Justin rarely loses his composure. But Justin's mommy died 11 days before this wedding, and Sandi (Jason's mom) is Justin's Second Mom and Jason is Justin's "brother"--they've known each other since pre-pre-school age. So when I saw Sandi at the rehearsal dinner I started to tear up, and when Jason and Sandi did their mother-son dance at the reception Justin had to leave the room so no one would see him sobbing.

Then he got wobbly drunk.

As I noted previously, eating, drinking and/or procrastinating in large measure does not take away the horrible facts of any situation, and often makes things generally worse.

For example: Toni died regardless of almost everyone in the house maintaining a steady buzz (red wine for most of us, Bud for Dorothy) for most of the day, every day. (Horrible fact of death not taken away.) Any of us drinking to relative oblivion (I can only speak for Justin and I factually, but wouldn't put it past at least one or two others) only caused the day of and day after drinking to be marred by fighting words, puking and/or an awful headache. (Made things worse.)

Nevertheless, we are dog paddling and treading water in this alcohol-laden ocean, and the sharks seem to be circling.

Today was absolutely surreal. After comic sketches and reviews of the rehearsal dinner and wedding day, Justin and I went to breakfast. We were surrounded by Father's Day celebrants who despite their occasional charm further enforced our no-way-we're-having-kids attitude. Then we went to Mark's house to help him take down the old gazebo from the backyard and to celebrate Father's Day with him.

The mortuary had called: Toni's ashes were ready to be picked up.

So we did that first: Justin drove, I took shotgun, Mark sat behind me. For a while we were silent, then I said, "This is a really weird thing to be doing. What do we do? Strap her in on the backseat on the way home?" Conversation quickly moved into an odd topic of small talk--something from The History channel, something from the neighborhood, something about driving. Then we were There.

I followed the boys through the door. One of them must have told the man at the front desk that we were there to pick up Toni; he quickly ushered us to the room where we had picked out the cremation services we wanted and left us there while he went to get her.

I took quick glances at stationery to get ideas for the announcements I am mailing out. The guys just sat there, I think staring at their own hands fidgeting at the table.

The man returned with the box we had chosen and some paperwork. He counted out the death certificates, gave Mark papers to sign saying he had received the cremains ("Cremains?" "Remains, cremains.") and handed everything over.

Anyone ever signed for a package from UPS? It's like that. I am a little stunned, in fact, about how many times a human being can be "signed for" in one lifetime and death. Once for delivery and once for removal from every location she encountered beginning on April 29, 2007. Hospital. Skilled Nursing Facility. Home for hospice care. Mortuary.

Justin and I let Mark carry the box. Perhaps it was more like we made him--after the mortuary man stood up and left we all just sort of stood there like, "What now? Is that it? Geez." I picked up the envelope of papers (official note taker and all...). It was a son or husband's job, certainly. A man's job. Justin deferred to Mark and then opened the driver's side passenger door for... her. When we got back to the house we quietly walked in and Mark's mom looked at it, touching the box and opening it to see the jewelry box area, and commenting that the signature and dates plate was very nice.

Then Mark locked it--"I suppose I should, huh?"

"Yeah, probably," I said. It's not like she's going to jump out, but they do live with a little jumpy dog and Mary. Anything is possible.

"Where will you put her?" Justin asked.

"I guess in my room, right?" We watched as he put the box in the center of his bed.

Right in the center, like we used to, to make sure she wouldn't fall accidentally.

Then we looked at some old pictures and documents Mark found, and while I worked on the invitations to the wake the boys tore down the gazebo. I got them to help with adjectives for her--feisty, spirited, loving, compassionate, passionate, strong... afterward we went to Baja Fresh for dinner.

Conversation is now similar to the way toddlers play: parallel. They are in the same sandbox, but they aren't really playing together, just next to each other. As they get older there is some interaction--like they'll work on building one sand castle together, instead of just filling a bucket and dumping it out while the other kid messes with a little shovel.

I kept trying to organize the wake while Mark kept telling stories about pre-cancer Toni. I'd jump in and respond every now and then, but, kids, this wake ain't happening until it's happening. Sunday, June 24, 2007, 11 a.m.

We're back in one-day-at-a-time land. It's not as though the wake will be the end of the grieving process, it's probably only the beginning or one little marker, but these boys aren't going to face it until about 10:59 that morning. Somehow having the ashes in the house and the wake only seven days away makes Toni more.... gone. Maybe before we got her back it was easier to imagine she was away on business, or in the hospital, or on a little vacation. But now, there she is, in that box in the center of the bed.

When he lifted the jewelry top out to show Dorothy the plastic box inside... well, there she is.

Part of me wanted to see the ashes. You know, for sifting purposes.

I like to plan.

On the drive home Justin and I were talking about what a generally difficult life Toni had for so many years. "Man, it's really kind of amazing she lived as long as she did," I said. "And then to have the nerve to linger for eight days! I really thought she'd go after three."

"I thought she'd get home and just be so relieved..."

"Ahhhhh! I'm finally back. Good night everyone!" I bantered.

"Yeah, I only thought she'd last two or three days."

"I thought that night was it. But no, I think she looked around and thought her boys were too tired. Then she had to wait for everyone to be there, and for the three of us to finish breakfast... I'm saying all this fondly, you know?"

"I don't think of it fondly. It was the worst eight days of my life."

"I don't think of the time fondly, I mean I think of her fondly."

"I know, but I don't like to think about it. The last memory I have of my mother is of her lying there dead."

For a while we sat silently, then he turned on sports radio.

"Can I say something?" I asked. "I don't know if it will help or not, and you don't have to say anything."

He turned the radio off.

"I know the last memory you have chronologically is of her dead. But, you can pick your memory. I know a lot of other stuff happened in those eight days and after this, but I remember you kissing her on the forehead in the middle of the night (he had just given her meds and was trying to get her to go back to sleep) and she said, 'More!' and gave you kisses on the cheek too. That's the memory I try to keep. And washing her after, helping the nurse give her a bath, that was one of the most spiritual experiences in my life--and I was baptized as an adult, and watched you get baptised and got married in a church, but that was so amazing. That's the stuff I choose to hold onto.

I don't know if that helps, but it's what I've got."

"Thank you, sweetheart," he said and patted my leg while he drove down the freeway.

But I know nothing really helps. There's this gaping hole in our little universe and I can't fix it.

All I have is love and cheese and a vegetable platter.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

In the News

The big story in San Diego yesterday and today is that a man killed a woman on the day of her child's eighth birthday. Coincidence? No. He knew the woman. In fact, he had an on-again-off-again relationship with her. In fact, the eight-year-old girl is his child. The dead woman was 31-years-old, and she has 16, 11 and 8 year old daughters (no comment on the father's identity) and was pregnant with another one of his children. So the guy went into the doctor's office where she is a receptionist (a block away from the office I was in three hours earlier, by the way) and she asked if the flowers he was delivering were for her--and then he shot her. Then, after driving home to City Heights (a couple of neighborhoods over from ours), he called 911 and confessed. So, FOX news, (my favorite for fair and trashy news, by the way) is covering the families like mad--this is the pastor of the man, this is the aunt of the woman, this is the apartment complex where she lived with her three girls... of course everyone loves the females and is praying for all of the people and are surprised--even the neighbor who used to fix the eight-year-old girl's bicycle. (Why he "used to," I don't know... can't he do that again? Does it not break anymore?

So of course this news makes feeling sorry for myself relatively impossible--next to of course today's headlines that I read on the TV about "The Middle East Exploding" and "Possible Three Civil Wars."

Meanwhile, the County Fair can be a dirty place to eat... you know, because of all of the animal feces that are also attendant at the fair.

Oh, and Thomas the Tank Engine wood made toys are recalled.

Now, this last piece of news matters to me. I can't imagine Victoria trying to take away anything Thomas related from Josh and Sam. It just would not go well. I can only picture the household mayhem ensuing as parents get the news... now we're talking civil wars. Hopefully civil, at least.
What with story #1 and all.

In other news, closer to home, Oakley just went to a wedding where Hollywood style pyrotechnics went wrong and someone ended up with second and third degree burns--the wedding was for a co-worker and another co-worker got burned by chunks of fiery balloon strips... imagine what this turn of events will do to office politics...

The Borens are forbidden to tell Jason or Arman about the fireworks. Jason is getting married on June 16, and Arman is getting married on June 23, and Justin is in both of the wedding parties. These weddings are polar opposites. Justin called Jason today to find out when exactly on Friday the rehearsal dinner is--and Jason will call him tomorrow (the day before!) to tell us when we have to be there for Justin to be in pictures and to rehearse. Jason says a lot of people won't be at the actual rehearsal because they have to work, but the Pastor will do a quick run through with them before the actual wedding on Saturday. On the other hand, Arman wants all of the guests, especially the wedding party, to stay at or within a one-mile radius of the five-star wedding hotel from Thursday to Saturday night and we are the only ones who are allowed to miss the rehearsal--and that's because Justin has to take a nationally required test for medical school that day. Also, we just received a pre-wedding DVD of the happy couple, complete with two postcards with further information to be double checked and returned--and the postcards as well as the stamp bear their photographs. It's really quite beautiful, and I don't begrudge them their happiness, I am simply illustrating the vast variation in styles of Justin's friends.

Importantly, Jason cannot know about the fireworks--he'll try to build his own.
Importantly, Arman cannot know about the fireworks-- he’ll find a way to add them to their 5-star resort bonanza.

"Back to Normal"

After work at Mo's I called my little brother (OK, a taller but one year younger guy who owns a condo and is actually a rocket scientist) to say hello.

"Are things back to normal?" he asked.

"Yeah, except for the part about Justin's mom is dead."

I'll give him that today was the least emotionally charged day I have experienced in over a month. Today, I walked the dogs, drank some coffee, got my braces adjusted and best of all hostessed at Mo's. It was SO good to be back at work. It's awesome to move dirty dishes off tables and clean tabletops and ashtrays. I got to be nice to people and no one expected very much of me at all--menus, smiles, somewhere to sit. It's just enough work to be physically, mentally and emotionally occupied, but not so much that it is overly taxing. I actually forgot for a while about everything else. It's the kind of life experience that is perfect for practicing living in the moment. And the moment is so simple.

OK, So I'm Not Really Angry With "Everyone"

Justin and I discussed whether Say-Nothing-Nancy was really the best therapist for me. He knows therapists who actually give advice and skills to use; kind of like wrapping up the session with a little review of what has been said and felt and then a check-for-understanding about what a person can do if a similar situation arises later. (And they always do happen again, don't they?) Justin, after all, is three weeks short of finishing his third-year of medical school and has learned about this stuff.

At first we thought maybe a more obviously wise therapist would be better for me--maybe I had maxed out Nancy's style and needed something more than, "You've learned this in cog, now put it to practice." I carry my cog skill set around like a little lifeline to hopeful normalcy (I hate that Nixon made up that word and we use it now). But then we realized that the last thing I probably need is a therapist who tries to boss me around and tell me how to live. Justin pretended to be me in the most loving way possible and quipped, "You're not the boss of me!"

Maybe a woman who just sits there and lets me be angry or sad is what I need. I haven't had a lot of places where a wide range of emotions is acceptable or a display of strong emotions is not followed by abandonment (too loving--run, too passionate--run, too angry--punish and then run). Of course, I remind myself that she takes money from me for this, but then I also remind myself that with my meager military medical insurance I'm sure she could get more money for that hour from a regular civilian patient. On the other hand, I don't appreciate the implication that my anger and frustration of yesterday was irrational--whose anger after someone dies is rational? She compared it to me being furious with that woman in cog who was pregnant and obviously an incompetent parent. Yeah, it was irrational of me to want to stab her--I didn't even know her. But I think I can be angry with the people I actually know when they're actually wrong (like Mary Lorraine or a therapist who isn't offering guidance even when I ask for it). On the other hand, I'm not really angry with my new-mom best friend because she's been swallowed into the Moby Dick of motherhood--after all, I had every intention of mailing her a card each day I was gone and I didn't even have time to write one. And I was taking care of a dying adult with a "team" of caregivers, whereas she is stuck in the house with a brand new baby and I don't know who else... except for Eric. And of course when I left messages with all my San Diego friends at 9 a.m. they were at work and couldn't contact me until later. So today I feel a little more connected. A little less than I am walking a tightrope and suddenly the safety net underneath is full of gaping holes.

But I think a person who has had a death in the family should feel angry. I know she should. Anger is part of the grief cycle. Everyone who has had even the slightest bit of training in psychology (or even read an article in a magazine) knows that.

Though I'm not suffering over a great loss of someone who I knew really well, who I had a lot of great times with, who was my closest ally (remember, I only know the Toni who was difficult to understand when she spoke and who had a hard time feeding herself and who coughed a lot), I am suffering for those who did love her.

I am sad for my husband who will never be able to ask her the stories of his mother's life, who went through times with her that are harder than the average mother-son conflicts, who relied on her completely when the men in her life (pre-Mark) were walking danger zones (gambling addicts, drug addicts, mentally and physically abusive--you name it, they faced it), who will not get to have her sing happy birthday to him when he turns 33 next week, who will not get to hug her when he graduates from medical school because she inspired him and against all odds made him do his homework and stay in the Marines when he felt awful and who nursed him back to life after his amputation. I am sad for Justin whose family was mostly Toni even though she was only a shell of herself, and who wants to have ties with Mark and his biological dad Jim... who is trying to hold onto whatever family he can have that was his before he became a part of mine.

I am sad for Mark who is stuck taking care of his mother because she took care of Toni. I am sad for Mark and Dorothy who are stuck with Mary Lorraine, the selfish, self-centered, free-loader who doesn't know any other way to live. I am sad for Mark who lost his wife, the woman who understood him and laughed at his jokes (when she wasn't trying not to give him the satisfaction and so only gave him a little smirk--she was such a card...), and who was never so bored on a vacation with him that they had to play cards (in cleaning, I found at least a dozen packs of cards that looked like they'd never been played: "Toni always brought a pack of cards when she went on long trips, in case she got bored. She didn't realize she'd never get bored when I was there.") I am sad for Mark, who is surrounded by the little boxes Toni always bought and filled with trinkets that meant something to her, who I hope will start to fill the pots with plants because that kind of work is therapeutic, who I know will benefit from walking around the block every time his family drives him crazy because he'll get to reconnect with neighbors, and exercise and get fresh air and escape that yappie little dog and his Cheese Nip eating sister and his emphysema suffering chain-smoking Budweiser drinking mom.

And I am sad for me. I am sad that I'll never get to do those things women do with their mother-in-laws--which might be fighting or could be shopping (though I think we both hate that), but would also be hearing the stories about Justin when he was little.

But there is also the relief that we don't all have to constantly worry about how to take care of her. We'll have to come up with another automatic first response for what we would do with the money if we won the lottery--we all said we'd get better medical care for her.

But as everyone says, she had the best care she could have in the end. She was thrilled to be home, you could see it in her face. She had her loved ones with her and the people she had been living with for the past seven years. Her son was there, with his hand on her heart for its very last beat. Her husband was there to say, "Bye Toni." Justin and I washed her with the hospice home health aide who was in transit when it happened and offered to bathe her anyway. It was one of the most spiritual acts in my life. Justin baptized her because she asked--with her defenses against all the horrible lying men in her life down, she could get what she wanted. "I want church," she said.

"Do you want to be baptized?" he asked.


She died in peace and love, and I guess that's all we hope for, though it would be nice if maybe someone could swoop in and care for us now. But maybe she's our guardian angel now--and I'm pretty sure she would want us to go to work and get our house clean...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Happy Easter

Apparently it was her favorite holiday. Quite possibly it was also the only one for which she was photographed and maybe that she was allowed to celebrate. There are childhood photos of her at Easter (bunny, white gloves, dresses, a Bible...) and then at prom, and a couple at the beach. Now, when we think about how often she said, "Happy Easter!" to us when it was not even close to Easter we feel bad. We had no idea--what if it was just her favorite childhood memory and so when she was happy she said, "Happy Easter"? What if that was the day that special people from out of town called to say hello and so everytime Justin called she said, "Happy Easter!" because that's what she was told to say when relatives called that day?

Justin is sad because there's so much about his mother he does not know. As we sifted through the boxes of photographs last weekend he and Mark tried to piece together her history, but even though between the two of them one of them was always with her there are still so many blank spots. Justin and his biological dad were there until Justin was about five years old--and what does a kid remember from before kindergarten? And then there were about eight years that it was just Toni and Justin--but from eight to 13, what does a boy know of his mom? The last twenty years overlap in a ragged mental album of graduations and relationships and marriages and deaths and disputes...

I have a friend!

Somehow Victoria knew to call me just after I met with That Other Bitch Nancy. Why I pay to talk to that woman I'll never know. She throws out really genius comments like, "Mhmmm." "You must be really sad." "I'm sensing a lot of anger." "It's been a pretty frustrating experience."

I finally told her it was her fault that my best friend in San Diego wasn't talking to me and told her that I knew she wouldn't give me any guidance anyway.

The idiot asked if my cog skills could be put to use to convince myself not to take it personally that my new-mom friend wasn't talking to me or seeing anyone, or that my step-in-laws family doesn't like me, or that my friends in San Diego have not called me back yet (the mom is overwhelmed, and a lot of new moms do this isolation thing, even if it isn't really helpful or healthy; the in-laws are crazy anyway and the good ones (Mark, Dennis and Ruth) do like me; the San Diego friends are probably working right now). Obviously I have put my cog skills to use, but that doesn't make it any better. It still leaves me lonely, trying to continue to be brave while I support my husband as he plows through the last part of his third year of medical school while also grieving the death of his mother in little tiny spurts. I'm so tired from taking care of other people, while ironically meanwhile I just want to take care of my new-mom friend and also get taken care of by other people, just a little.

I almost didn't even pay her for the rest of the month, but decided I'd go ahead and expect to finish out June and then decide if it was worth seeing her any more.

And then Victoria called. In one thirty-minute phone call she made me feel better because:
A) I knew I had a friend--someone I've known for 12 or so years, who lets me take care of her and her new babies and who could convince me that isolation was normal for some mothers (even if Victoria and I don't get it).
B) She also convinced me that therapists are for saying, "Mhmmmm," and making people work through their own feelings, whereas friends are for making people feel better.
C) She also reminded me that I can take care of Justin still (instead of burdening him with my negative feelings now) because I do have support, even if I have to make a long distance phone call to find it.
D) She also said that if I could go visit her and her new baby girl and two boys in Colorado she would definitely let me in the door, but she would also put me to work--which I would love.
E) She also reminded me that she has a crazy family too--but hers is blood related--and that people only say really mean things when they are so comfortable with you that you are considered family, even if there is no real blood tie. When I pointed out that Dorothy was also mean to 8 year-old girls who rake her lawn voluntarily, she pointed out that this particular old woman may just be crazy as all get out.

So, I feel better. Yay Victoria! (and of course there's still LA Oakley; as soon as the weather is better and the moms and everyone else under the sun are taken care of by us, we can have our Oceans-of-Sadness Beach Party. By invitation only.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Vacuum v. Dead of Night

If Oakley feels like her heart is a black hole and she is living in a vacuum, I feel like I'm walking through the dark, though I don't crash into anything--I just don't really see anything either.

Today, the doctor asked me about my mood/sleep charts and how Justin was dealing with his mother's death. I told him I didn't have my charts: "For someone who was once obsessed with charting information, I am now your least compliant patient. I take my meds, but the charts just aren't happening. But we literally just got in from LA because Justin's mom died on Wednesday, and we've been driving back and forth and up there taking care of her since April 29."

So he asked me about April--not really depressed, not too anxious, sleeping OK and without Ambien. And I told him May involved more Ambien to sleep and how could one really tell about depression when someone's mom is dying? But he said I was doing well, because I faced the situation well and stood up to it all: the diapers, the dying, the in-laws, the stress. I didn't feel inclined to stay in bed (though at the beginning we did, because we didn't want the days to happen), and I did carry out all the necessary tasks of attending to my husband's disintegrating family. He asked about how my "rejection sensitivity" was, and I said, "That's the only thing that's not so great," but how many people really have great relationships with their in-laws, leave alone their step-in-laws?

So all in all, hoorah!

When he asked how Justin was doing I told him he had to come back last Friday because he had to take his clinical exams final and that he has another final in primary care coming tomorrow. He gave me the perturbed look he gets when I talk about practical business while he wants psychological insight and said, "I mean emotionally."

"Hell if I know," I said. "We haven't had time to be. We've just been getting stuff done."

"OK. Well, knowing him like you do, how do you think he's doing?"

"I don't know. He's ploughing through like he always does; doing his Marine/doctor thing. He took care of his mom while she was dying and was right there with her at the end. I don't know how he does it. I think I've been crying more than he has, but he just hasn't had the time."

He went on to say the same thing so many people are saying, imbecilically and truthfully at once, that "with long, drawn out illnesses like this, he's had a longer time to do his grieving and a lot of it is already done, so the grieving process is shorter afterward."

Right now Justin's telling one of his best friends that he has a "final exam tomorrow I haven't studied for yet... I have good days and bad days... We've been so busy it just hasn't had time to sink in yet... Worst case is, I fail and I have to take it again... Just the exam."

So what if he's had seven years to know that she would die sooner than later. It's still like someone took the flashlight away and we're heading through a land we vaguely remember; we can make our way around somehow, but we can't really see anything.

How we're not crashing into the furniture and falling over things, I do not know, but I'm afraid that soon we will.

Like Justin just said on the phone, "We've been so busy, I'm still kind of in shock."

When the black numbness wears off (which is paralytic--no studying, no unpacking, no real anything except sleeping and eating), if it's followed by body-swallowing oceans of sadness what will we do?

This is really our life

Justin is starting pediatrics inpatient rotation on Wednesday, after he takes a final in primary care tomorrow for which he has studied... maybe 20 minutes.

He'll hopefully do all of peds in three weeks, still be able to be in the weddings, have his mom's wake and also take the pediatrics national shelf exam and Step 2 of the Boards--Part 1.

Now, he wants to go get a drink and then go to sleep and wake up at 2 a.m. to study for the final, which is at 1 p.m.

He's been recommended for honors for primary care--he's done a great job in the small group discussions and working with a doctor in Rancho Bernardo, but once again our real lives will get in the way of the test and unless he really does have a Superman cape...

Meanwhile, poor Oaks is sucked into our old vacuum of mom-is-dying heartache, and I stayed in bed all day.

I guess this is just what people do--we muddle through until we're, well, through.

Mommies Get Sick and Die

I don't think I've quite moved past the part in life where I believe that my mom and dad will live forever. Sure, I'm beyond putting them on a pedestal and making them my super-heroes, but I think I still want to believe that they will always, always be there for me.

Which has given this test-run of crisis without my mom and dad available to call at every scary turn more meaning and importance than you'd think.

Sure, I'm 32 years old, but I can't tell you how many times in the last month I've thought, "I want my mommy!"

Justin's mom died on Wednesday, June 6.

In reality, though, he's been grieving her loss for seven years; ever since he got that phone call telling him she had brain cancer. Ever since she came home in a wheelchair and couldn't move or speak or eat the way she used to do. Ever since she couldn't cook anymore. Ever since she became the care-needer and the rest of the family became her caregivers.

We did her hospice care together and were there when she died. We bathed her afterward. We watched the white van take her to the mortuary for cremation. We picked out the urn. We cleaned her house. We left her husband to take care of his mother and sister in return for the care his mother (and sister... kinda) offered his wife over the years.

When we finally got home--fourteen days after going north to care for her--we did some work, ate some food and slept some hours. Now, we're all waiting to see how our San Diego lives will weave us back into the fabric: Justin is at a meeting with the director of his clerkship program to find out what happens when a student misses two of the four weeks of inpatient pediatrics rotation; I am waiting for the new schedule from Mo's to see how many shifts I get now that some people have left and some people have been hired to fill the holes.

In the meantime, our dear friend Oakley who gave us an escape hatch when we were in LA has been listening to stories of her own mother's decline in Thailand while getting a preview of the experience through Justin. Now, she writes that she has to cancel her road trip to New Mexico with us so that she can go home to be with her mother, who has been given a six month prognosis. Six months, though she has been fed only through an NG tube (nose to stomach) because she stopped eating and stopped talking about the same time Toni did.

And, today, June 11, Oakley sent me this message with an article from the LA Times:

Well, here.,0,4267023.story?coll=la-home-middleright

Oh, and I haven't gotten around to call you guys. But I will have to ditch you to go home after all. Prognosis is less than 6 months.

Have we already reached that time in our lives? The day Justin's mom went into the ICU my friend gave birth to her first child. In the span of these four weeks, Justin's mother died, we have two weddings to attend, and another one of my friends will have a baby boy. We will celebrate Father's Day alone with Justin's step-father while my dad continues to travel with my mother on their dream retirement vacation. We will have a wake for Toni the day before Justin's 33rd birthday. Oakley will travel halfway around the world to see her dying mother. These words were all I had to offer her:

Read the article. Ain't that a bitch. Justin and I just got home this morning at 7:30ish so I could walk the dogs and go to my psychiatrist appt. By the time we left Mark's last night we were way too exhausted to drive so we decided to sleep--which didn't seem better at 5 a.m. when we woke up to leave my parents' house.

Sorry we weren't able to call/see you the last few days in LA after Toni died. There was so much to do in the house, plus we couldn't bear the thought of leaving Mark with his family without Toni. You guys rocked at taking care of us though. I wish we could do the same for you.

I am so sorry to hear about your mother's prognosis. From a spousal point of view, I can only say that I understand a little bit the pain and sorrow you must be feeling--especially so far away. I know Justin was always frustrated that he couldn't be there more, except for when he was relieved that he couldn't be there more. It's a Catch-22 if ever there was one. There's no good way to be the child of a dying mother. But I also know that it was important for both of us to be there as much as possible at the end, and that your time at home will be helpful to you and your family.

For Justin, his mom's death was sad but also a relief because he knew she wasn't suffering anymore. It's been such a long road of illness and fear; to have finally switched paths is a little scary (what do we do out here without his mommy?) but maybe also a little like the first-day-of-school scary--it's new, it's scary, but it's where we're supposed to be and mommy would be proud.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Day After

After yesterday, the first day in the house without Toni, there's the cleaning of the linen/toilettetries closet that Ruth and I did while Mary Looraine watched TV in the next room and ate from a giant bag of pre-popped popcorn. Our tax dollars at work--she had her stomach stapled on medicare. She can't make more than $700 a month because she has SSI and would not get that--I say it's a risk she should take. It's hard not to hate her, though feeling sorry for her occassionally crops up. But then she complains that I"m cleaning her house and I want to kill her with my bare hands. She may weigh twice my size, but I could take her. I'm quick, strong and sprightly. Plus I think I might just have a team that would either stand by or step in to help.

And there stand my evil thoughts for the day. I will go back to their house (feels wierd to go there without Toni there, but Justin's already called it Mark's house once) and clean the office. I will try my bes to be nice to Mary Looraine, but if she complains to me just one time I'm giving her a piece of my mind--which is twice the size of hers, at least.

OK. I'm going to go about my day with my evil and loving thoughts alternating. I miss Justin and my Mommy and Daddy. Justin read all his letters to Toni from Boot Camp yesterday when we got home. He took them with him to San Diego--he has a hugely important test that he has to pass to go on to third year today. I think he studied for twenty minutes in the last two weeks, but I know he'll do well. He's that kind of guy. I'll be buying him a Superman T-shirt soon.... or maybe a cape. Brandon and Oakley always say he must have one hidden in his closet.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Toni Lee Hines, 59, died peacefully in her sleep at 11:31 a.m., June 6, 2007. Her son Justin Philip Anderson, MS III, 32, watched her take her last shallow breath and used his stethescope to check her heart one last time; it had stopped completely. Her husband Mark David Hines, 48, held her hand, and a mirror to her mouth and nose, checking for condensation of breath, but none came. They held her hands and said, "Bye Toni." "I love you, Mom," respectively. She is survived by her husband and son, and his wife Olaina Anderson, 32. Her mother-in-law Dorothy Hines, 75, moved to CA from OK to be Toni's steadfast caregiver for seven years after Toni underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor and radiation therapy. Though cancer free, the long term effects of radiation to the brain gravely effected her quality of life and eventually lead to her death. Dorothy will continue to care for her children, including her daughter Mary Looraine, 45, who lives with her and also moved to CA. Toni, a vibrant, quick-witted and fun-loving woman will be remembered fondly by her family and friends. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to [TBD organization that does research on brain cancer or organization that helps people in need or underserved populations without medical insurance or some such thing?]

It's too long of an obituary, but it is what it is.

Let me catch ya'll up on the last few unrecorded hours. I think I'll do this in stream of consciousness order and clean it up later...

Dorothy, who in all the years of Justin and I visiting Toni and Mark always greeted us at the door and then went back to playing a computerized version of Mah Jong while puffing on cigarettes and drinking Budweisers encased in a red can-cooler, turns out to be a sharp, quick-witted, hoot with a lot of history to share with us. She's hard of hearing, so we all have to talk loudly and sometimes try to speak into her amplifier attached to earphones to be heard. Hearing aides cost over $5000. Who knew?

On our first night staying at their house to take care of Toni she had one of those moments where we were sure she was going to die, or maybe just suffer more for longer. While Mark held her hand and Justin administered medications I had to take a breather, so I went into the smokers' kitchen and sat on one of the step stools with my hands on my face. Dennis and Ruth and seen the tears on my face, but Dorothy didn't know I was there until she turned around from the counter.

"Tired?" She asked. I nodded and said, "Yes."

Then in a perfectly even old voice she said, "I'm not tired, I'm just drunk!" and sat back down in her chair.

I laughed so hard through my tears and said, "What kind of family have I married into?!?!" After taking a breath I added, "My mom doesn't drink at all and neither do the Seventh Day Adventist elders of the family and my dad drinks but..." It wasn't an insult, just more of an acknowledgement of this entirely surreal situation.

That night, Justin slept on one couch and I slept on the other, but both of us kept checking on Toni. Checking on Toni--is she breathing, is she eating, is she still in her wheelchair, is she awake, is she alive, does she need to go to the bathroom or have some more coffee or a jacket or the channel changed... these have been the occupations of years.

Toward the end of a life breathing is erratic and congested coughing is frequent. At one point Toni made this calling out sound with her vocal cords that jumped both Justin and I to her bedside immediately. She had already been in more pain that day, so he had called to check with the doctors to get permission to increase her morphine dose. He knew she had a long way to go before she maxed out the allowed amount, but since it's a controlled substance he needed permission. So, he medicated her, we made her more comfortable in her bed and went back to our vigil from the couches. We hardly slept at all that night, and I ended up sitting in the Lazy Boy chair in the morning watching one of our favorite shows--Law and Order--quietly and napping for a couple of episodes.

Then, the rest of the family went into the backyard (except Dorothy, who in her tenure with Toni has had a hip replacement and been diagnosed with emphyzima and Mary Looraine who either slept or went out with friends or talked to them from her car after saying, "No one is going to want to hear this," one of her best acts of judgement that day--however off the mark in general.

They replanted a lemon tree from a pot to the yard, cleaned up the patio, cleaned the patio furniture, swept and organized the pots for planting (Toni and Mark used to garden a lot), and set up the benches so people can sit there now. Dorothy is thrilled--she's been wanting to take her morning coffee and cigarettes out there for years, but it has been a minefield of broken pottery and glass, dog droppings and leaves fallen from the trees. Meanwhile, Mark set up his computer so I could listen to Nora Jones while I continued to organize the office closet (after years, we can get to the closet since we moved all the boxes of Mary's into the garage and her room and put his few things away. We found the treasures of photos we'd been looking for--Justin's baby photos through Mark and Toni's adventures have been divied up--Justin gets the pre-Mark era.). As I cleaned, I intermittently checked on the breathing status, she was chugging along with these shallow little breaths; if I tried to breathe in her pattern I would have been dizzy. We were still able to offer ice chips to cool her mouth, put cherry flavored chapstick on her lips...

more later.... gotta go clean stuff.... but just in case I forget future subjects include the last night sleeping on the chair, the breathing, the wake up call, the I'm gonna live forever morning, the breakfast and errands, the housefull of people and the end, then the hospice call, the mortuary call, the equipment removal, and dinner at Tokyo Hibachi, her favorite restaurant where they remembered her but didn't dare say anything until I quietly let the owner know what happened today.

Monday, June 04, 2007

In The Name of the Father

Justin just read a letter to Toni that his father (her second husband--the first one went to Vietnam) wrote to her. Jim told her that he had her in his prayers and thanked her for doing such a good job raising Justin, acknowledging that he hadn't been around that much.

Then Toni said, "He has church."



"Do you want church? Do you want me to baptize you?" he asked.

I grabbed his copy of Luther's Small Catechism that I had brought with me and turned to the Emergency Baptism page. All you have to say is, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." I got water in a Dixie cup from the bathroom and he used that, sprinkling it on her forehead and making a Cross as he said the words. He used a white wash cloth from the medicine shelf to dry her afterward, I confiscated that to save it.

After he said, "Amen," I offered, "Do you want to say the Lord's Prayer like we do in church?

He said OK, so Mark held Toni's left hand and Justin held her right hand while I held his hand in mine. I looked at Justin and he looked at me, so I started and he joined in as we quietly said the words and I held my voice from shaking.

They're watching Walker Texas Ranger now, while the others hang out in the kitchen and I write this on Mark's dial-up internet connection. It's fine. We'll be spending the night. It's not going to be long now--she's sounding congested again, which they said would happen. For a few days she hasn't needed the suction. She's also sleeping more and talking less and barely shaking her head yes or no. She's willing to take morphine, though we just tell her it's medicine to help her breathe, which it is. There is no reason to cause her fear or stress. She's going to die whether she gets this medicine or not. She should be comfortable.


Toni gets this look of absolute fear in her eyes. She also does not want to close them, the way a baby fights sleep. The boys keep telling her it will be OK, she will be OK, but I think what she needs to hear is that THEY will be OK. They, whom she raised, whom she drew out of their shells and made men, they who she protected and fed and cared for and loved; they of whom she brought out the best and I'm sure also the worst--she needs to know that they will be OK. She needs to know that she will be in heaven watching down on all of us, and that we'll all hear her voice saying do the dishes, don't marry that woman, she's not good enough for you, make Mary Looraine get a job... she needs to know that she taught them how to live and they will be OK.

I wish she didn't look so scared. Does it help if you believe you will go to heaven? That Jesus loves you? I don't know. I've never seen anyone die. But I believe all that, and still it was taking care of Justin that kept me alive. She needs to know they learned from her how to take care of themselves and the rest of us.

Let's see what today brings.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Leaky Faucets

Justin and I are like intermittently leaky faucets, twice today we thought she was going to die at that very moment--this tiny problem with breathing she's got going on--and throughout the day we get caught with eyes dripping tears we wipe away quickly.

The last time I went into the kitchen afterward, where Dorothy was talking to Dennis and Ruth. Since she's deaf and her back was to me, I was able to collapse into the camping chair and bury my face in my hands before she noticed my presence.

"How's she doing?" someone asked.

"Justin thinks she might go tonight. We thought that was going to be it just now," I said, and started pulling my socks onto my cold feet.

"How's he taking it?" Ruth asked.

I buried my face again. Dorothy turned around and said, "Are you tired?"

I wiped my eyes and said, "Yeah."

"I'm not tired, I'm just drunk," she said.

She'll be 76 years old soon.


Justin really got to Mark today when he told him she probably only has a day or two, maybe less, to live. Her blood pressure is low, and the numbers are getting closer together (96/74 or something like that) and her breaths are fast but shallow. I said, "Do you think tonight might be it?" He shrugged in possibility and affirmation.

But when we left she was still with us, squeezing hands and saying, "I love you too," to the boys. She's looking at me funny now; maybe she doesn't recognize me anymore.

Mary Lorraine actually spoke sweetly to her, said she hadn't forgotten her but that she's been busy running around (I kicked her out of the living room today because she was talking too loudly on the phone about boys and relationships... today she turned 45.) Toni didn't smile at her and I love her for it, though she still smiles at Dorothy.


Justin and I are going to pack a bag to stay tomorrow, just in case.
Justin is exhausted and would have stayed tonight if Mark had said straight out, "I'd appreciate it if you stayed tonight," but he's learning to take care of himself and he knows that if she makes it through tonight then he needs to be functional tomorrow and tomorrow night. So we're going to get some sleep. Besides, we had to get all our meds and he had to check on some school contacts since he's going to miss a second week. His mom said it was OK to go, though, and she still has the final word.

Seeing--the gloves are off

She mouthed words at us. We'd just arrived and were saying hello, Justin on the bedside with the medical equipment, me opposite him near the medications.

"What?" It's a trade off to lean in and try to hear her by putting your ear to her mouth, or keep watching and read her lips instead.

"I can't see," she said.

I looked at her. She was wearing her glasses already. "Honey, open your eyes." She did. "Is that better?"


"Cool. I like it when the answers are that simple and I can actually do something helpful."


Maybe I should say the gloves are on. I am now a member of the changing team. Diapers, sheets, gowns. It was just a matter of time, after all, one of the first times we all went out to eat at a restaurant, Mark asked me to help his mom take Toni to the bathroom. I didn't say it, but I must have had a look like, "Who? Me? Why not my mom? She's the one who is a nurse." Fortunately, that never happened again. I've been making it a point to leave the room when
it's time to change her--trying to give the woman what dignity she has left. But today they needed my help, Mark and Justin, so I helped. It's gotten to a point where I can do almost anything (with gloves on)--maybe it's partly because of my job, maybe it's partly because this situation has just become so dire that people hardly have any defenses left.


Oakley and Brandon had me over for dinner. I was watching her cook and as she took a small plastic container of salt and sprinkled small pinches of it into the pot of chicken I said, "Wow, you look like such a confident cook. I actually have a measurement scoop for a pinch, a dash, a..."

"Nah, I just ...what's that word?... freeball? Brandon, I always want to say freeball, but that's not it..."

"No, freeballing is when you're not wearing any underwear," I said. "You mean eyeballing?"

"Eyeball! Yeah! I just eyeball it."


Today Mark let us clean some of the office out and get into a closet that has been blocked by Mary Lorraine's boxes of trash, coins, photos, T-shirts, random articles of clothing and craft supplies, a suitcase, and a box of framed photographs we think belong to Toni. Mary Lorraine was complaining about it, "That's what happens when you have to live in someone else's house..." I was so fed up I just said, "Oh, stop complaining and just do something."

So much for my repentance. The gloves are off.

Later, Justin said she was whispering into Dorothy's hearing amplifier. Like I care what she has to say. She whispers for her own defense; she knows I could take her.

I need to just write her a letter telling her that I know she's done a lot to help Toni and Mark and we appreciate it, but that it is really frustrating to watch someone A) mooch off the state, the nation and the family, B) not even attempt to use their potential to accomplish anything of significance. Also, my husband's mother is dying and if she could please be a little respectful that would be decent. I'll save the details for paper. For now, I'll just try to keep my blood pressure down by breathing deeply and slowly.


In the closet, we found photos of Justin as a baby--with his biological dad Jim and then growing up with a few of her friends... We haven't quite made it to the more current photos, but Mark is letting us have these old albums of her with other people. We also found a wedding photo of theirs. She looks happy there, and she looks happy when she is pregnant with Justin.

I would not recognize that woman if I saw her on the street. I wish I got to know that vibrant woman, but all I ever met was a small woman in a wheelchair.

Oakley's mom is sick too. Yesterday at dinner I asked Oaks if her mom had any new tricks yet, like eating or talking or something. "Nope. She's got cancer in some new places and they're going to do some tests to see if the other ones are growing. She's still not eating or talking. I don't know what's going to kill her first, the cancer, the not talking, or the not eating."

Justin, Brandon and I let the idea of dying from not talking slide by as if it made perfect sense, but the other guy there said, "Not talking? I've never heard of anyone die from not talking!?!"Of course we all burst out laughing, while Oakley defended herself.

"In my family you probably could die from not talking! Brandon, doesn't my mom talk more than even I do?"

"Yes," he nodded. You could see love and truth in his compassionate look. He had visited Toni earlier that day. He still asks why I thought he had any emotional reserves left for that after the week before watching the FBI talk about baby killers and other homicides.

That morning, Toni had been talking in her whisper-voice with Justin and me. She said, "I wish I could make sound."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sound Bites

"Where's my dog?" Toni asked.

Flynn and Maggie were put to sleep about a year ago, but yesterday I'd shown her photos on my computer that included them. When she saw them she said, "Flynn, Flynn," in that quiet breathy whisper she has now. So I opened the files and showed her both of them again. She kept asking where they were, so I told her they were in doggie heaven, but I had pictures of them.

"My other dog?"

Justin and I looked at each other. "You mean that little dog?" I forgot its name.



"He's in a kennel right now, because we have too many people coming and going here and he would just keep barking." The other day he bit Dorothy's hand because she gave Laura a motherly pat on the knee. ("Damn! Drew blood!" she said as she yanked her hand away.)

"For how long?" Toni asked. We looked at each other again.

"I don't know."

"Can it be permanent?" she asked.

"Yeah, we're working on it," we said, laughing.


Today, when Brandon came in to visit she was talking and we were trying to figure out what she wanted. Sometimes I can hear her--I'm good with accents and speech problems; it's part of teaching, like reading bad handwriting. So far I've gotten it all pretty well. This time though, it wasn't clear. Since earlier she'd been hot and I took the sheet off her (a little bit at a time, and she kept saying, "more"), I asked, "Are you cold? Do you want the sheet on again?" and I pulled it up a bit.

Toni still has the ability to roll her eyes and flutter her eyelashes the way she used to do. So she did. "OK. I'm wrong. I'm the official volunteer for being wrong around here right now." I really don't mind at the moment. "Want me to sit down and shut up?" I asked. She nodded, yes. In laughter I sat, and Brandon gave me a high five anyway.


Laura wants Mark to buy DSL and have three phone lines. Mark still has dial up.

Go ahead, do a little math.

In the house lives: one woman who is dying and cannot dial the phone anyway, one woman who is deaf and can't hear that well on the phone, one man who works all day, and one woman who "needs it for her business, so [I] can have a business line and a personal line."

"What business?" I asked.

She said the name of her "company."

In my total bitchiness I have said these things:
Until you get paid, it's a hobby.
Have you registered your company name?
When you make enough money with your business you can get DSL and pay for it yourself.
If Laura gets hit by a bus, I get her lens.

If I were Catholic, I would have to confess. But I'm Lutheran and I'm funny and Jesus loves me anyway.

Tomorrow I will try to be nicer to her. I repent. I can't make any promises though, I'm only human.

Today, at one point she said, "Can I slap her?" about me, and I said, "Go ahead, I can totally take you down."


Toni has moments where she smiles at Justin or Mark and can say stuff like, "I love you," or "More," or "Water," or "Get me out of here." But she also doesn't remember Justin's foot accident, or her car accident and she asks what happened. Justin told her about her having a brain tumor and removing it (Bob, I guess they named it) and getting pneumonia and then being really weak, but he's afraid to say to her, "You're dying now, Mom." He's afraid she would say she does not want to die, and somehow he still feels so heavily responsible for her DNR and hospice choice. But it was in her Advanced Directive and she and Mark and she and he had discussed it all before she got cancer, and after.

This death wasn't his choice, it was hers--to the extent that anyone would ever choose to die this way.


When we went into the restaurant to eat with Brandon he said, "Dude, where do you hide your Superman cape?"

"It's right behind my Wonder Woman outfit," I said.

The Tasks at Hand

Other than The Watch (and suctioning, and trying to hear what she wants, and finding inventive ways to give her a glass of water without giving her a glass with water...), today I get to be crematorium girl. I call and ask for estimates. Since I'm Girl Who Can Look Toward The Next Step.

I also want to clean things. I am on a cleaning rampage. It's all I can do. If Justin hadn't given me an Ambien last night I would not have slept. Some might say I'm having a manic phase, I say I'm dealing with life the best way I can right now. So I fully intend to find something to clean, and I'm going to ask Toni for requests (God willing she's talking today). I know she liked that house spic and span--Justin said that's how he grew up. So spic and span it shall be, by God. And maybe later, I'll attack my parents' house too.

First though, I need to write a quick note to Pete Gomez, our neighbor who is on House Watch and called my brother because people started coming and going....

Ah! The energy a girl can get from a good night's sleep.