Tuesday, January 22, 2013


My friend's mom passed away last week.

She went downhill very quickly, she was "fine" before the holidays, ended up in the hospital and ICU and was gone by the 12th of January.

My friend lives in Maine, his mom lived 20 minutes from us here in Massachusetts. I knew her as well as one knows a friend's mom. Through family event interactions like his kids' birthday parties. But  mostly in online interactions, Facebook was her playground.   She was a "farmer" on facebook, and was always sending me requests to play and help build her farm. I don't farm. But to me it was always a sign that she was doing alright, she's up and playing and having her life... farming.

 She also was a rabid sports fan, a card carrying member of "Red Sox Nation" and it was always fun to read her irate or joyful statuses, depending on which side of the win/loss column the team landed on a particular night. 

Wednesday of the week prior, my friend called to let me know what was happening. I told him I'd come visit, bring him some lunch from Nick's Roast Beef in Beverly, MA (a pilgrimage location for "our people," meaning Gordon Students and Alumni). I knew he'd appreciate it. So we planned for later in the week, and on Friday morning and he told me he'd give me a call later in the day, and let me know how things were going in the afternoon.

I picked Doug up at the train, traffic was horrible getting from point A to point B. It was late, dark, and both of us were kind of wiped out. We talked about not going out there that night but calling Saturday to see if he needed anything like help with the kids. They have six of them. I could take the little ones (10 and under) to a movie or something. Doug said he'd help with stuff locally, go up to the hospital, do the bringing of the lunch from Nick's. We decided that when he called, we'd just pinpoint a good time for Saturday and a Saturday plan.

But, I didn't hear from my friend that night. It worried me. I thought maybe he was just all set or changed his mind (but now thinking of it, who passes up on someone hand delivering Nick's to your face when you're doing a bed sit?). So, I tried to call his cell at about 7pm to let him know the adjusted plan on our end, but my call went straight to voice mail. I figured that was a bad sign, so I left it alone.

The following morning, I called and he answered. Seems that a little after midnight that morning, she passed away.

And the rest of the story goes like this:

He told me that his cell phone died. It was on the charger but not taking a charge. There was something wrong with the stupid thing ... and he didn't know my phone number by heart, a sad casualty of our modern life when everything is in our phones. I can remember my home number from growing up, and my best friend's phone number, but I can't tell you my neighbor's number. I just press "Nancy" when I need to call her.

So with his dead phone, he was sitting there wondering when I was going to show up. He was starving. Hospital food stinks in the first place, and this particular hospital shuts down all food service options at 6pm. So he was high and dry, without dinner. And not really wanting to go out to get something, thinking I would show up.

Patiently, he sat waiting, and hungrily. I was a no-show still. He was watching a movie, which ended at about 11:15 and they immediately went into the next movie, the way sometimes those "theys" do it at the networks. The movie coming on was "Dan in Real Life," which my friend tells me is one of his all time favorite movies.

He was standing there with his coat in hand, planning on running out to the Richdale or 7-11 or SOMEthing just to get a little bit of food, while the opening to his favorite movie began. He muttered to himself... and decided he'd wait a little while and watch his favorite movie, for a little while, and then go out and get something.

Dozing off in his seat, obviously not that drawn in to watching his favorite movie, he heard his mom stir. He woke up, walked over to her and thought that she wasn't breathing so he touched her arm.

He thought, "did she die while I was sleeping? How stupid is that! I missed it because I fell asleep in my seat?"

In touching her arm, she startled awake and looked at him. He  sat down next to her and told her it was okay, he was just checking on her to see if she was still there.

Five minutes later she was gone, with him holding her hand.

Now, a lot of people can say a lot of things about this particular death bed situation. He and I both had a good laugh about me not bringing him food, and that keeping him there waiting, but by her side. And me not becoming a distraction in their last hours together. The broken phone, the lack of knowledge of my phone number... these things kept me from interloping.

The fact that those "theys" at the network started showing his favorite movie JUST as he was about to walk out the door to go get food was also a fortunate thing. She may have passed away while he was at Burger King getting something at the drive through. And he would have missed it because ... he was hungry. So the movie kept him there, by her side.

His dozing off and her stirring, both in just the right place and plane of consciousness to connect, and both of them waking up together at that point in time. He was able to walk over to her, touch her arm, talk to her and let her know it was okay.

How many of us get that opportunity, to be there alone with the person who carried us into the world, to help walk them out quietly and peacefully? How many little synchronicities had to happen to keep Wayne by Bonnie's bedside for that very moment.

While I personally am sad that I didn't get to say goodbye to her, it overwhelms me with joy, love and sadness all at once that my friend got to do this.

Her funeral was on Saturday morning, we had a big mercy meal at her house. We got to gather with old friends and the kids. My daughter thinks my friend Glenn is an absolute riot. He is. He's a great story teller. He drives my husband crazy because when Glenn is telling a story you "can't get a word in edgewise" but ... Doug is guilty of that too. My sides hurt from laughing by the time we left.

I remember her as always cracking jokes, and always willing to do things. She loved to swim. Whenever we were at my friend's house and she was there, she was in the pool with the kiddos. Lake, pool, wherever... she was swimming and holding the babies and encouraging them to not be afraid, to kick and paddle, swim swim swim!

When I went to the house to help on Thursday before the funeral, I helped build a bulletin board of pictures for the wake. One bulletin board was full of pictures of her throughout her life and another was just of her and the grandbabies. She was silly, would wear silly hats, let the children do things to her, she swam, she had several pictures of her riding things. Sort of like people would yell "hey! go sit on that and I'll take your picture!" and instead of going "oh, no no no ...that's stupid...." there she went. Concrete animals, an elephant, a wooden race car, a floatie in the pool... click. Embarrassing photo op!

All told, as far as funerals and "dispatches" go, this one was pretty cool. And I feel badly for my friend and his family. She LOVED his children... oh did she love them. She spoiled them rotten, she babysat them, she loved them, she lavished attention on them the way you want a grandmother to. I don't think my kids get that kind of Grandma love (in fact, I know they don't) and I was always slightly jealous of her relationship with them. But I'm glad they had it. And I know they will miss her.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

My Son's Observations

Ever since Geoff was in first grade, I've been taking him to a Big Famous Boston hospital to see doctors and neurologists and thread through what his "issues" are.

Over time, Geoff was diagnosed with ADHD and Nonverbal Learning Disorder. I've discussed his diagnosis and our journey with him here in the blog many times.

The doctors we go see  primarily treat kids who have severe autism. Some have different degrees of Aspbergers. A lot of the kids have to be seen weekly or monthly. Some receive a lot of therapy.

Right now we only have to see the Psychiatrists twice a year, kind of on a "maintenance plan" to monitor how Geoff is doing.

We'll call him Dr. Charles.

I get the feeling that Dr. Charles is very happy when Geoff comes to visit, and over time has become one of his easiest patients... At today's appointment, we talked about how over time he has really learned to manage his disappointment and his anger/aggression issues (ie: 2nd grade Geoff almost stabbed a teacher in the eye because she was being firm with him, and he was not done with his math problems and did NOT want to move on to the next thing, so he struck out at her with his fist when she got in his face. 16 year old Geoff knows that even if he's not done, you move on when it is time to move on.)

We talked about College. Which made Dr. Charles smile. I don't think he regularly gets to THINK about his patients actually going to college. We talked about Boy Scouts and how Geoff wants to be an Eagle. Each time we see Dr. Charles, I remind him that one day he'll be invited to an Eagle Ceremony, and I do hope he will come. Dr. Charles' main concern with Geoff is his lack of outside-of-school social interactions, and he encourages us to try and connect Geoff with others. Which we try to do. But he doesn't really have friends.

For instance, last night was his birthday. We planned a dinner out, but the three boys he told me he wouldn't mind spending time with outside of school all had other plans. And Geoff said "or so they say." It is hard for him to connect with people... and I don't know when he'll ever get good at it, if ever.

While we were waiting, Geoff took a good look around the room today and later told me he realized out of the 8 or 9 patients waiting, he was the most "Normal" of the bunch. He even used air quotes around "Normal."

One little girl had a laptop with headphones on, and was playing a game, singing and looking out the window and spinning in her seat. There was the friendly autistic boy who kept saying hi to everyone and shaking hands, over and over, with all the same people. Another boy with limited verbal skills was fussing with his mom, he had to be about eight.

Geoff was most interested in the boy who kept saying hi. We guessed his age to be about 16-20 maybe. Hard to tell. Geoff wanted to know what his story was. I told him he was probably (because I am not a doctor and cannot diagnose) autistic. We talked about how in the greater scheme of things this young man would need to be forever taken care of by others. He would never live on his own, take out the trash, put gas in his car, make his own dinner, have a roommate or a girlfriend. His parents would have to take care of him, and would, if they have not already, have to have a plan in place for when they are not around to take care of him. Maybe the boy has a sibling, older or younger, who can take him in. Maybe he'll end up in nursing care. I don't know. I do not know this family, and do not know the path that this young man will be on in the future.

His only language was "Hi," and a handshake. And I think he and I said hi and shook hands about 16 times in 20 minutes. His dad kept trying to get him to leave me alone but it was okay with me... I wasn't going anywhere, I wasn't trying to read, and he was doing his best to communicate in the only way he knew how, so I wasn't going to shut that door.

In talking about him with Geoff, I said "All I know buddy, is that everyone is on a different journey and some people have it harder than others. And in comparison to that boy, your dad and I and you, all of us together on YOUR journey, we have nothing to complain about and no fears of the future. I do want you though to have a soft heart, and a deep compassion for boys like that. Protect them, educate others about them, and just be aware that there but for the Grace of God go you. Promise me that."

He nodded his head and looked out the car window. He asked me if he was autistic, or had Aspbergers, and I told him no, he didn't. "But I'm socially awkward," he said. Yeah, but that doesn't immediately equal Aspbergers. Never self diagnose. We talked a lot about how far he's come and how further he'll even go. We talked about the possibility of him doing a program in 2014 with the Boy Scouts called Sea Base. We talked about College, the Navy or Coast Guard, and I told him to finish the three missing pieces of German homework he has that his teacher emailed me about, and we'll worry about the future when it gets here.

And indeed, there but for the Grace of God.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

another thought for 2013...

Tonight, I was sitting on the couch watching my old dog Jack work his way up the flight of stairs. Jack is getting on in years, and he takes each step carefully and painfully. I have taken him to the vet and she said that he's doing well health-wise in all other ways, except for a laryngeal reflex that makes him make a gagging noise periodically during the day. It is like having a permanent tickle in your throat and constantly feeling the need to clear it.

Gonzo is often a three-legged dog. He goes out and runs and runs and runs like a maniac, and then for a week he can't put any pressure on his back right leg.

The vet said he's getting arthritic, and I haven't yet asked her for a prescription for pain medication for him, but his next well-doggie checkup is in February and I think I will get him on something. She'll do x-rays to confirm... but I know it will help him greatly the way it did Kinger when he started getting on in years. 

But I sit here wondering as I watch both of them frolic in the snow, if I'm going to see the end of 2013 with them. It is my goal to see them through the year. It isn't like you have a puppy and you know you'll have YEARS with that dog. I'm not at all concerned about Brodie and her health... but these two old men? These two old boys who have grown up together... I wonder if they'll last this year.

I am completely in love with Jack. I've owned several dogs in my life... Missy, Kinger, Jack, Gonzo and Brodie... and Jack is by far my sweet love, my best friend. There is no better dog.

It breaks my heart thinking about him getting on in years and struggling with these stairs. Both dogs have taken tumbles down the stairs in the past few months. Gonzo especially has a hard time getting up stairs and there is nothing more horrifying than being in bed at 2am and hearing a 70 pound dog fall down a flight of stairs. We have a nightly ritual, where I help them go up to our room, one at a time. 

I know that all dogs die. We've lost two since I've had this blog. I'm not relishing the loss of the third, possibly fourth, during this next year.

In the meantime, check out this before and after pic of Jack. I took him in to get groomed and his hair was so matted (yeah, I suck at brushing him) they shaved him. He looks naked. I should get some other pictures of him outside playing while he's still "naked."

happy or just plain happier 2013

I mostly have nothing to say really right now. Very un-bloggy these days. But I wanted to write an entry so I get the new year up on the side bar. Lots and lots of years here on the blog, I must say. Holy crap.

Anyway, we've been sick for weeks over here in happy (a)musings land. Doug came down with an -itis right before Christmas and I caught it. Christmas eve service I couldn't even sing. Just stood there hating my throat. On Christmas day Doug was delusional and hallucinating, talking to the TV. High fever equals high comedy.

He created a term that may go down in history. We were watching the news and there was a woman talking about a "dangerous apparatus." Doug started laughing and said he was going to get into a "dangerous NAPparatus!" ah ha ha hah ahaaaahahahaha oh i'm so funny, says Doug. So we're using the term in regular rotation when it is time to get some serious drug induced sleep.

Christmas was our usual low-key laid back "slacker" style affair. More than half of jess' presents didn't show up, so we're waiting on those. Last minute shopping is stupid.

New Year's Eve found us still sick, curled up on the couch watching Netflix and Sgt. Frog episodes and Jackie Chan and Kung Fu movies. Midnight came and went and we crawled into the dangerous napparatus. Happy freaking new year.

Geoff's birthday is next week and we're trying to think of something fun we can do, and we are broke. Doug suggested going to a Japanese steak house. When I suggested we bring a couple of his friends Doug balked, because he doesn't see the point in spending money. It's kind of disappointing because this is his 16th birthday and I would like it to be something a little more than dinner with Mom and Dad. Trying to convince him that we should do something nicer.

Anyway, that's about it. Still sick and feeling nappy right now.