Friday, May 24, 2024

In memoriam

I took advantage of the somewhat-more-bearable temperatures today - mid-eighties instead of high eighties - to do some garden work. Today that meant attacking the rosebushes and removing both dead branches and things that are not roses growing in with the roses - Rose of Sharon, blackberries, and a few other things. Unfortunately with my first cut I managed to take out a stem of a Double Delight covered with roses and rosebuds. (Don't worry, there are dozens more.) I decided I would use these pruned flowers as a decoration at the cemetery. I grabbed an old relish jar, filled it with water, and clipped the blossoms and buds to an appropriate length. I did the same with a single Blaze rose, and multiple Royal Highness specimens.

Roses at the cemetery. Blaze is the light red in the center, Royal Highness is light pink. Double Delight is the mostly dark-red rose seen on the sides

Double Delight is supposed to have a cream center, but mine do not


Royal Highness, a pretty rose with a great scent


Sunday, May 19, 2024

Twenty years a blogger

As of this past Tuesday, May 14, I have been blogging for twenty years.

I commented a while ago that my blog seems to be primarily a documentation of a vanishing world. So many of the places I have written about no longer exist. So many of the people I have written about have died. In these twenty years I have seen the passing of both of my parents, more than a few of my friends,  two dogs, and over a dozen cats. I have long known that one day my own memories will be gone, and this blog will be the primary chronicle of those memories - for as long as it lasts.

I am tired. I am not blogging as often as I once did. I am not writing about every little thing that happens in my life, or even the major things, but that has been true from the start.

I will try to keep going for as long as I can. We'll see how long that is.


 

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Amber, 2009 - May 9, 2024

 Amber was put to sleep on Thursday, May 9, 2024 after suffering a saddle thrombus the night before.

July 12, 2020

October 1, 2023



October 27, 2009

I knew what had happened just from the sound.

It sounded like a child clunking around in their parent's shoes. Or maybe like a kid doing a commando crawl, knees and elbows thudding on the floor. It's not a sound I should have been hearing. I knew what it was: a cat crawling along the floor, pulling itself with its front legs, its hind legs dragging uselessly behind.

I had heard that sound once before.

Saddle thrombus is extremely rare, they say. I think of it as a stroke for a cat. A blood clot has caused an obstruction in the artery that supplies blood to the back half of the cat. The legs and tail are not just paralyzed, they are effectively dead, and rapidly go cold. There is a treatment - but it must be administered quickly, is very expensive, is lengthy and involved, and has very little chance of succeeding. Cats who survive the treatment will almost certainly have another saddle thrombus in the near future. Median survival time for cats who "recover" is 94 days.

BlueBear had a saddle thrombus in October 2017. He was just eight years old. We rushed him to the emergency vet. After a brief consultation, they advised us of the prognosis and recommended immediate euthanasia.

I looked toward the source of the noise. I saw Amber dragging herself down the hall towards the bathroom.

Oh God, not Amber.

My reaction would have been the same regardless of who it was. I love all of our cats - my cats - and I tell them that several times a day. Amber, though, had been especially close to me this past year.

It wasn't always like that. For much of her fifteen years, Amber had been a cat who kept in the shadows, letting other cats be my mom's "special cats." Babusz in particular was close to my mom. When she died in 2021, the cat power structure shuffled quite a bit. Peaches moved into the position held by Babusz, and Amber began to make herself more visible.

Amber was quite fond of my mom but never let me get too close. I got to pet her for the first time since she was a kitten sometime in 2022, when she seemed sick. I noted that her fur was nowhere near as soft as it looked. She was quite rotund - my mom tended to show her love through food, and she routinely overfed all the cats.

After my mom died the cat structure changed again. Peaches and Spooky, who had once attached themselves to her, now vied for a spot next to me. Mama Cat, too. Her large son Bojangles routinely perched on the back of my chair. Amber was still aloof, but warmed up a bit. She developed a fondness for treats.

Peaches died last October after several months of declining health. She spent her last few weeks lurking in the bathtub, possibly to avoid September's heat. For months after she died, Amber would check the bathtub to see if Peaches might be in there.

Amber and Peaches had been good friends. After Peaches died, Amber finally seemed to fully accept me, and was now most often found at my side or on my lap. (My recollection may be a bit off here. The close-up photos of Amber above were taken October 1, 2023, eight days before Peaches died, indicating that Amber had been by my side for some weeks or months before then; while she and Peaches and Spooky may have been trading off the coveted position at my right hand, my attention had been focused on Peaches during the time that she was showing signs of decline.) She had lost a lot of weight in the months since my mom died - I realized this might be because she was living on treats, rather than the overfilled bowls of food my mom would have throughout the house. I made special arrangements to feed her. Cats love exclusivity, having something that no other cats have. Amber was fond of sitting on an oversized hassock that we acquired back in 1984, so I set up a food bowl there just for her, as well as a dish for treats. I would give her a third of a can of Fancy Feast every few hours. After a few weeks she was eating three cans a day. She was no longer losing weight, but she also wasn't gaining weight as fast as I expected. I wondered if there was something wrong with her ability to extract nutrition from food. I guess we'll never know.

With Peaches gone, Amber grew closer to Bojangles, ten years her junior. She had also always been friendly with her littermate Spooky. Spumoni - who generally only pals around with her mother - was never close to Amber, but would sometimes teasingly swat at her in passing. Mama Cat, as always, only made time for her two children, and would often position herself so Amber had to leap over her to get down the hall or onto her hassock.

The cats like Temptations treats - Amber, Spooky, and Bojangles especially. Every night they would line up to get them at bedtime. I would pour some treats into each of three lids. Spooky and Bojangles would dive in and chow down, while Amber held back - usually while perched on my back. Every morning as I made my morning ablutions, Amber would come to me for treats. I would pour out another lid full, and she would always, always wait until I set the lid down, and then run off into the hallway. A minute later Bojangles would come in and begin eating treats while Amber waited in the doorway. He would eat about two-thirds of the treats and then exit the room, leaving the rest for Amber. Only then would she come and finish the treats. I would usually add a few more for her, and thank her on Bojangles' behalf.

More and more Amber was spending time with me. Where once she wanted nothing to do with me, now she constantly wanted me to be petting her, or stroking her fur - which was now as incredibly soft as I had once imagined it to be -, or rubbing her belly, or scratching her ears. "Petting the cat" became an important daily task. I knew, at fifteen years old, our remaining time together was limited, and I did not want to regret a moment not spent together.

Peaches had had a difficult time eating in her final weeks. I gave her exclusive food in the bathtub, made her special meals, and had plenty of treats available for her. She developed a fondness for lickable treats, and rapidly burned through our supply of Churu. I had just ordered a new shipment of Churu and two other brands of lickable treats a few days before she died. The box sat untouched since October. About a month ago, I decided to see if Amber might like them. She did. I began a routine of letting her - exclusively - have three or four tubes of treat each day.

Something seemed off this past Wednesday. Amber was at my side as usual during the day, and had two tubes of treat before I started work. She made herself scarce as my work day began. But she did not emerge during my first break, or during my lunch. I began to worry. But as I settled back to work at the end of my lunch break, she again was at my side. She didn't want more treats, but let me scratch and pet her for several minutes before she jumped off to do cat stuff.

She had the saddle thrombus as my work day was drawing to an end.

I knew there was nothing that could be done. Maybe - maybe - if I gave it some time, God might grant the miracle that I had been denied during the hours and days I had spent at my mother's bedside in the hospice. Maybe the clot would dislodge, dissolve, disappear, and her hind legs and tail and everything else from the hips back would recover.

I found her hiding behind the toilet, hugging the coolness of the porcelain. I pulled her out and decided to take her to bed with me. She did not want to be there. She panted, she cried, she tried to drag herself away to some hidden place. I would not allow it. I covered her eyes with a blanket, a pillow, my arm. This calmed her for a few minutes at a time, but then she became agitated again. She fought me, scratching and biting like she never had before. Eventually she dragged herself away. I followed her.

She found a spot on the floor she seemed to like and settled there. She panted heavily, doing "abdominal breathing." Other cats gathered around her at a respectful distance, keeping watch, standing guard - including, surprisingly, Mama Cat, who maintained her position for hours. After a few minutes Amber's breathing calmed. She looked completely relaxed. She looked like she had simply decided to lounge on the floor, her legs stretched out behind her. She eventually fell asleep. I decided to let myself do the same. It was about three A.M., about three hours since things started. 

I woke up a few hours later and could not find her. I had hoped she would stay where she was. On some level I had hoped she would die in her sleep, avoiding the trauma of being euthanized. But it was not to be. It took some searching, but eventually she let out a little cry that gave away her location. I extracted her from her hiding spot and secured her in the bathroom, with a towel and bowls of food and water. I then made some calls to arrange for what needed to be done. Our regular vet was completely booked up and would not be able to perform the euthanasia. I made arrangements with an emergency vet to get it done, but confirmed that our regular vet would be able to arrange the cremation. I got a long-disused cat carrier and prepared for the final trip. 

Amber cried as I took her to the car. The cats always do. Even though they all spent some part of their early lives outside, none of them want to be taken outside. She cried as we started the drive. I sang to her - The Amber Song, the song I would sing to her while she was on my lap  or when she would crouch on my back while I was in bed. She had always loved the song, and would stay with me longer whenever I sang it to her. Now it seemed to make her more agitated. I turned on the local NPR station, and they were running their noontime arts program. A man was speaking about a walking tour of several historical churches in the Hazleton area.* His soft droning tones calmed Amber and she quickly settled down. As we made the trip through Wilkes-Barre and into Plains, where the emergency vet was located, the program turned to classical music. Amber continued in silence. Maybe she was sleeping. 

Finally we were there, and it was time to go.

I took her out of the carrier and wrapped her in the towel I had put inside with her. I carried her into the vet's. To anyone watching, I looked like someone carrying a perfectly healthy cat.

I told the people at the desk why I was there. I broke down as I explained that I knew what had happened, knew that there was basically zero chance of helping her, knew that the only thing - the humane thing - was euthanasia. They looked me up and saw that I had been there with BlueBear six and a half years before, when he had his saddle thrombus and was euthanized.  I opened the towel to show them Amber's dead limbs dangling uselessly along with her tail, to let them know that I wasn't someone just trying to dispose of an inconvenient cat.

And I broke completely. Suddenly I was bawling, bargaining, telling them that I only wanted euthanasia if there was nothing else that could be done. A vet tech came out to console me, to tell me that she had seen this several times before and had never seen a cat recover from it. I accepted this, something I had already known. I handed Amber over so she could be prepped for euthanasia. 

A few minutes later they led me into a room. Amber would be brought in with a line installed to make the injections easier. They would leave us alone together, and we could spend as much time getting ready as we needed to take. They provided me with a button so I could spend however long with her and call them when we were ready.

They brought her in, wrapped in a soft blanket, her eyes wide and looking at me, her pupils very large. I suspect they had given her a mild sedative. I held her and she buried her face in my chest.

When we took BlueBear in all those years ago things were very different. I wrote about it here:


I spent a few minutes with her. I sang her The Amber Song.** I told her she was a good cat, the best cat. I told her how glad I was that we had gotten to spend so much time together. I thanked her for being so nice to me, for being such a good friend to Bojangles, for being such a good friend to me. I told her how she would soon be with her Mommy, and with Peaches, and with everyone else who had gone before. I told her how the rest of us would be joining her someday, maybe someday soon. I scratched her head and rubbed her belly and stroked her fur and told her I loved her and everyone loved her and kissed her a thousand thousand times. I told her I was ready, that I was going to call the vet now.

I pressed the button.

The vet came in. I told her I wanted to hold Amber as she gave the injection. She said of course. Amber buried her face in my chest again. I breathed warmly onto her head. The vet gently gave her the two injections. Amber went still in my arms. The vet told me that she would leave the room, and I could take as much time as I needed, and should press the button when I was ready.

I spoke to Amber again. I don't remember what I said. I broke down again and wept over her for several minutes. Finally, finally, I pulled myself together and pressed the button.

The vet took her away to prepare Amber for me to take her to be cremated.

They put Amber in a soft fabric bag, almost like a child's book bag. I had paid up front, so I was able to leave directly. I then made the brief trip to our regular vet to make the arrangements for private cremation. I will get her remains, and a small vial of her fur, in a week or so.

*     *     *

Everything I have read says that saddle thrombus is very painful. I had forgotten that detail. I never got the impression that BlueBear was in pain. (Rereading what I wrote right after he died, I suspected he was in pain, but he didn't indicate that he was in pain.) I didn't get the impression that Amber was, either. In both cases their reaction seemed to be confusion and fear, not understanding why they weren't able to run and jump like they had been just a few minutes before. I felt like the vet rushed BlueBear's euthanization, which happened about two hours after his saddle thrombus. Amber, on the other hand, I intentionally did not rush. In the end over thirteen hours passed from the time of her event to the time she breathed her last. I hope and pray I did not simply condemn her to several extra hours of unnecessary agony. If I did, I hope she can forgive me.


*The archived interview with Jan Lokuta is dated May 8, 2024, though I was listening on May 9.

**There are actually at least three versions of The Amber Song. I sang two of them.

One is sung to the tune of "My Name is Larry" by Wild Man Fischer:

I love my A-am-ber

my baby A-am-ber

she is my A-am-ber

such a good A-am-ber

...and so on, sung with plenty of vibration on the A-am-ber. 


For the moment I forget the other tune, but I'm sure it will come to me. 


...I remember now, sung to the tune of the first two lines of "You Are My Sunshine":

You are my Amber

my baby Amber

my little Amber

my favorite Amber...


A third version I didn't sing that day, using the tune of John Brown's Body/The Battle Hymn of the Republic:

I-I love my little A-am-ber

she is such a go-od A-amber

how I love my pretty A-am-ber

she's such a tiny cat

 

Monday, April 08, 2024

The Great American Eclipse of 2024


We almost didn't see it. This total lunar eclipse cut a long path across the United States, from Texas to the New England states. Northeastern Pennsylvania was outside the path of totality, but still in an area of greater than 90% coverage - 94.4% in Nanticoke. Unfortunately, that was also pretty much our degree of cloud coverage this afternoon, after a bright and sunny morning. Still, there were moments that the eclipsed sun could be seen through the clouds, as captured above at about 3:15 PM.


I tried to get establishing shots of the sky and landscape before the maximum eclipse so I could compare it to the appearance at maximum. Unfortunately, the adaptability of my camera to various light levels meant that no significant difference can be seen in the before (above) and after (below) images. But there was a significant difference. The "after" appearance was much gloomier, and felt unnatural. The clouds seemed to thicken, making me wonder if the temperature drop in the Moon's shadow causes water vapor to condense out of the atmosphere, increasing cloud formation. It was easy to feel the temperature drop as well.


I had friends at various points along the path of totality. One traveled to San Antonio, Texas especially to see the eclipse. It looked like she and her companions would be clouded out, but the sky cleared long enough to see totality, and the solar corona. (A few hours later it was raining hard enough that her hotel began to take on water.) Another friend in Niagara Falls had cloud cover comparable to ours, but at least got to experience totality by having the mid-afternoon clouded-over sky turn completely black.

While somewhat disappointing, this was a fun event, and I'm glad I got to experience it. 


CODA: While reviewing past eclipse posts, I found this diagram of the path of today's eclipse, created by Fred Espenak. I originally posted it in December 2018.




Friday, April 05, 2024

Poem: Love Day

 

Love Day

Here's to the personal holidays -

the days we carry with us

Not just the birthdays and anniversaries

but all the other days that mean so much to us

and might not mean anything to anyone else

The first time you fell in love

The day you got the call that your grandmother had died

The day you walked away and never looked back

Days fill a year

and make up a life

So celebrate your personal holidays

even if nobody else knows why

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Breakdowns in March

March 2: Driver's side windshield wiper blade falls apart. Replaced. (This had been breaking since January, and I had bought a replacement a few weeks earlier.)

March 4: Car battery dies after nearly three years. Replaced March 5.

March 12 (12:45 AM): Upon leaving work, discovered that both low beam headlight bulbs had burned out. Drove home with high beams on. My mom got this car in 2014 and I've never replaced the headlight bulbs, so I guess it was time.

(UPDATE, 3/17/24: The 2009 Toyota Camry has two "headlight" bulbs. If you look the information up online, you will be told that the replacement bulb is a 9005. This is the replacement for the running light bulb. This apparently only comes on when you switch on the high beams. The headlight bulb itself is an X11, which is increasingly difficult to get. They are not interchangeable. I ordered two 9005s, when I actually need two X11s. Turns out I have one X11 that I believe was left in the glove compartment in its package by the previous owner, so I need one more.)

March 13: Television dies. This TV was about twelve years old, so I guess that was due, too.

UPDATE, 3/28/24: Water heater dies, March 26. My mom had subscribed to one of those home warranty companies, which I always saw as a ripoff - anything you actually need done never seems to be covered. Turns out the subscription was left on auto-renewal. It first renewed a week or two after she died, and then again a year later. I had it transferred into my name. They sent someone out yesterday to check the water heater - a covered system - and he confirmed that it needs to be replaced, something that is not covered. I saw some stickers on the water heater itself, which was installed in June 2018, and called the number to see if it is still under the manufacturer's warranty. It is! So now I just have to arrange to have someone remove the old heater, take it to a specific retailer, get a replacement heater, and install it. Still going to cost a lot of money.

Sigh. Life is expensive.


Thursday, March 07, 2024

The crocuses of 2024

After paying for my new car battery yesterday I took a trip to the cemetery. The crocuses had been breaking the soil on my visit on Sunday but were not yet in bloom. As of Wednesday, March 6 they are just starting to unfurl.



The yellow crocus continues to appear after seventeen years.



I don't know if these crocuses were planted long ago or just appeared on their own, but they are spreading from year to year. I never saw a crocus near my father's flat marker until last year. This one is very nearly centered over the marker.

(I checked the post from 2007 linked above and it notes that my mom had planted a few purple crocuses several years earlier. It also pointed out that we were surprised to see crocuses already in bloom on March 28. Now the crocuses are pretty much spent by the end of March.)

UPDATE, 3/17/2024: The crocuses are almost all gone. When I stopped at the cemetery last weekend I could see that the flowers were wilting, apparently damaged by the cold nights we've been having. I was surprised today to see the flowers on the sunny side had been cropped off, perhaps by rabbits or deer. The ones on the shady side (seen in the top image) were there,but the flower heads were wilted. I saw what appeared to be a white plastic shopping bag twisted around the base of the vigil light, but when I tried to pull it off I realized that this was actually the remains of three elongated white crocuses. The crocus at the top of my father's marker shown in the fourth photo was also wilted, but another one had sprouted up to its left, closer to the center of the marker.

Monday, March 04, 2024

Dead battery, again

And so this "new year" begins on a familiar note.

I needed to go grocery shopping this weekend. This used to be a weekly thing, but lately I've been shopping once every two weeks. I meant to go on Saturday, or maybe early Sunday. But after my trip to the cemetery on the anniversary of my mom's burial - capped with a graveside changing a windshield wiper in the rain - I didn't feel much like shopping for groceries. Sunday, for various reasons, I was not able to get out as early as I would have liked, and wound up leaving around 8:00 PM.

The shopping trip was uneventful. I found everything I needed except lettuce - the section for iceberg lettuce was empty. I jammed my purchases into the trunk, pulled out of the parking lot, and drove home the long way around, crossing the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke bridge, which may be torn down and replaced in a few years. I got home, pulled into the driveway, shut off the car, sat for a minute to listen to the radio, and watched the dome light get dimmer and dimmer.

I tried to restart the car. The starter clicked and buzzed.

OK. Don't panic, I thought. We've been here before. The battery just needs to rest a few hours and then it will be able to start the car again. I contemplated driving in to work Monday afternoon, walking out of work in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and finding that the car would not start.

I got ready for work today. Made my goodbyes to the cats. Made my way to the car with my computer satchel, a Zone bar for my lunch, my drink, and a raincoat for the rain expected tonight. Loaded everything in the car. Put the key in the ignition and turned it. Heard a click and a buzz.

Tried again, several times. No good.

I called my supervisor to see if I could take today as a work-from-home day. She looked into it. Called me back to tell me no, that option wasn't available today, but I could take "annual leave" - basically a day off. I'm not hoarding my time off to spend with my mom in the event of her contracting COVID-19 or some other medical emergency, not anymore.

It's been almost three years since the last time I needed to replace the car battery, on March 20, 2021. The time before that was October 30, 2018.

I've made arrangements to get the battery replaced tomorrow. We'll see how long this one lasts.


NOTE TO SELF, March 6, 2024: This new battery has a 42 month full replacement warranty. Considering that the last battery lasted 36 months and the one before lasted 29 months, this is important...as long as all parties involved are still in existence in 42 months.


Saturday, March 02, 2024

One year after the funeral

My mom took her last breath at 8:44 PM on Friday, February 24, 2023. For various reasons, she was not buried until Thursday, March 2. I've told the story of the funeral and the events that led to it here, and I don't feel like rehashing all that. It's a really good post, you should check it out.

Many of my friends came from near and far to be with us at the wake and the funeral. I was blown away. I will be forever grateful to them, and to all the friends who couldn't make it but kept us in their hearts.

The crocuses were just starting to poke up through the soil on that day. They would be in full bloom three weeks later, and completely spent by the end of the month. Crocuses like full sun, so I may plant some shade-loving perennials - bleeding hearts and lily-of-the-valley - on the shady side of the tombstone.

Aside from the crocuses, March was not a month of much natural growth. My mom's grave remained a patch of dirt showing where she had been buried throughout the month and well into April. A few grape hyacinths eventually popped up around the tombstone and near the nearby tree, the first time I had ever noticed them at the cemetery.

I've kept a vigil candle burning almost continuously since late October. When I was a kid I remember setting out the vigil lights once a year, maybe replacing the candles once. Each candle burns for a week at most. I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep the vigil light going. I'll definitely put it back before All Souls Day, less than eight months from now.

Year One of mourning has come to an end. 

March 3, 2023

March 2, 2024


Saturday, February 24, 2024

Poem: At the gravesite

My mom passed away one year ago, on Friday, February 24, 2023 at 8:44 PM. Several months ago I scheduled Friday, February 23 of this year off from work. By coincidence, this turned out to be the date of the Winter edition of the Word to Word poetry reading. When I realized that, I decided I wanted to write a poem about my mom for the event. That turned out to be extremely difficult. This is what I wrote instead.

This poem was written February 3, 2024 and first read at the open mic portion of the Word to Word poetry reading at the Gather community center in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on Friday, February 23, 2024.

This is a work of poetry. Specific details may or may not be true, and will be vehemently denied at any church inquest.

At the gravesite

There is a peace

knowing where you are

not far from the entrance, under the tree

in the place where the crocuses bloom

and a few grape hyacinths

We buried you with your car keys in your hand

like you always said you wanted

and the ashes of a dozen cats and two dogs at your side

as you asked

more cats mixed into the soil like fertilizer

waiting to bring forth

the crocuses that bloom in Spring

Crocuses, March 20, 2023


Friday, February 23, 2024

Another dream: Mad Max in the forest

So strange that I have had two detailed dreams just two nights apart, each using someone else's intellectual property, characters with whom I am familiar but not especially fanatical about. This one was from Thursday morning. 

I was in what I guess was a Mad Max movie, with Mel Gibson as Max. He was wearing a fur-trimmed jacket instead of leather. I was his co-pilot on a mission. The dream opened with a 3/4 overhead shot of a beaten-up RV, a camper of sorts, covered with welded-on armor plates. It was towing a gold hatchback sedan. Both vehicles were making their way along a path through a forest. A woman was speaking, and I knew our mission involved smuggling some women to safety. We were almost at our destination. The women were hidden away, and the woman I heard - I actually think she was providing narrative exposition - remained unseen.

Suddenly, a complication: our maps told us we should have a clear path through the forest to where we were going, but the maps were apparently wrong. Through a peephole in the armor-covered windshield we could see that the forest path was taking us through an old habitation, literally through buildings from before the war or great disaster or whatever. It looked like we were actually smashing our way through walls, but apparently that was how the path was laid out. The buildings weren't abandoned - there were people here, some civilians, some soldiers. We eventually came to a halt so we could parley with the resident warlord of this place - a tall, gaunt, weatherbeaten man who looked something like Jan-Michael Vincent wearing a button-down shirt and jeans.

The warlord was congenial and offered us hospitality but wanted to know everything about what we were doing. Max told him some convincing lies but totally failed to mention the women hidden away in our vehicle. I realized the warlord suspected that we were not being truthful, and wanted our vehicle and whatever we were transporting. The two of us were going to have to fight our way out of this if we wanted to complete our mission.

And that's when I woke up.


Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Interlude: A dream of Superman

As the one year anniversary of my mother's death draws near, my mind has been replaying all the events leading up to it. Strangely, I have had almost no dreams about her in the past year, despite my best efforts, and those that I have had have been very unsettling. 

Tuesday morning I had a dream that had nothing to do with her. But it has persisted in my memory, and I want to write it out.

Let's preface this by saying I've never been a big reader of D.C. comics. I know a bit about the main characters in their roster, and - thanks to some oversized reprints sold at Kmart in the 1970s - something about the characters and teams from the 1930s and 1940s. So it's strange how much detail this dream had.

I was on the street of what I assume was Metropolis (Superman's base of operations, though it looked like Scranton) when several members of the Justice Society of America came walking by: Hawkman, Black Canary, Batman (I think), and a few others. We all caught sight of something flying high in the sky and had a literal "It's a bird! It's a plane!" moment. We soon realized it was Superman. Hawkman mused briefly about how he wished he could fly like Superman. (I have no idea how Hawkman's wings of the Nth Metal compare to Superman's solar-powered flying abilities, but I assume they are vastly inferior.) We then noticed Superman appeared to be on an intercept course with a passenger jet - and within moments he intercepted it, causing it to break up in mid air. We were confused, but assumed he had his reasons.

Superman then began flying at a lower altitude, somewhere on the outskirts of the city, and began raining down some vicious emerald-colored energy that crackled and flamed. We didn't know what he was doing, but he was clearly destroying something. That evening, after nightfall, he did it again, causing an eerie green glow on the horizon.

The next morning the news came out: Superman had destroyed two Lexcorp warehouse and distribution centers for pharmaceuticals. There had been no loss of life, but distribution of the pharmaceuticals had been disrupted, and all stock destroyed. (There was no mention of the plane.)

Turned out I worked for Lexcorp on a pharmaceutical manufacturing line. All employees were called in to work to start ramped-up production to replace the stock destroyed by Superman. No one knew why he had done what he did or what he would do next, but we were all working with a sense of dread, a sense that we might be his next target. I woke up as I was clocking in on my production line.

It's been a long time since I've had a dream this detailed and specific. I have no idea what brought it on. I wanted to record it before it slips away, even though it's been well over fourteen hours and I remember it with great clarity.


Monday, February 19, 2024

In hospice: One year later

My mom had her stroke the morning of February 14, 2023. By February 15, it was clear that she would not be recovering, and that hospice would be the best option for her to spend her remaining days. But there was a complication: she had contracted COVID-19, which directly led to her stroke. Only one hospice locally was willing to accept individuals who were COVID-positive. That was the Hospice of the Sacred Heart in Dunmore, PA.

I would have preferred her to spend her final days at home, and I know she would have, too. But her condition, even as she was dying, required care that I wouldn't be able to provide. The Hospice of the Sacred Heart came highly recommended. My brother, sister, and I all agreed it would be the best place for her. Now it was a question of getting her there.

The logistics were...complicated. Even once we secured a COVID-approved room at the hospice, we still had to arrange for transportation. The final decisions were being made late on the afternoon of the 15th. She was being moved from her room in the CCU (or ICU, I forget which) to a sort of holding room in another part of the hospital. We didn't want her to be moved a second time that same day after she was just settling into the new room, but somehow that got misconstrued as not wanting her to be transported at all. She wound up spending the night of the 15th at the hospital. Much of the 16th was spent disentangling the confusion from the day before and waiting for transportation. I stayed in her room late into evening, well after the hospital had closed to visitors, and finally had to go home. Transport showed up an hour or two later. My brother was alerted, and he traveled to the hospice to supervise her check-in.

If you have a choice as to where you can spend your final days, the Hospice of the Sacred Heart is highly recommended. It is a calm, gentle place. It is very generous and welcoming to family members. In the week-plus that my mom was there, I frequently spent more than eighteen hours there in a given day. Food was far from my mind those days, but the hospice provided coffee and snacks and made-to-order meals. My mom's room was spacious and accommodating, where two of us could be there with her at the same time without tripping over each other. I often napped in a chair next to her, much like a cat in a short story I had written a decade before.

My first time at the hospice was on Friday the 17th. I decorated the room with artificial flower arrangements that she would never see, arrangements that I had meant to use to welcome her home. I brought up the Valentine's Day arrangement I had placed in her rehab room two days before her stroke. I brought up her favorite blanket and covered her with it. All these things were meant to send a message: This person is loved. Treat her well.

The hospice would become my second home until my mom's death on the 24th.




Wednesday, February 14, 2024

One year since the stroke

My mom was transferred from the hospital back to the physical rehab center on Sunday, February 12, 2023. I had picked up some dollar store roses the night before, along with a pretty vase and a Happy Valentine's Day balloon on a stick. I made a little arrangement out of them, and took them to my mother's room, along with a Valentine's Day card my sister had sent. I spent the afternoon with her, and turned on the Super Bowl for her. We watched part of the first quarter before I kissed her goodnight and left for the evening.

I watched the rest of the game at home, eating a terrible supermarket pizza. The Eagles and the Chiefs traded the lead constantly. It was anyone's game until the last moment. It was such a tight game, I worried that my mom might have a stroke watching it. (It turned out she had fallen asleep after Rihanna's halftime show.)

The next day she tested positive for COVID-19. She was furious. For three years I had kept her safe, kept her a virtual prisoner at home, tightly restricted her outside exposure, tightly restricted my own outside exposure. For five weeks at the hospital and the rehab center we had carefully threaded the needle of COVID exposure. And now, on what might have been an unnecessary return trip to the hospital, it had finally gotten her.

We had no illusions over what it could mean at her age, in her condition, with her specific issues. This might be it.

I visited her that day, now restricted by full COVID protocols: a gown, mask, face shield, and gloves. She was similarly garbed. We were both angry and frustrated at the situation. I only visited for an hour or so. I had taken the day off from work, so I called her later that afternoon, after she had had dinner and had gone to bed. We talked about Rihanna's performance. and she vented more about bastard COVID. I told her I loved her, and would see her the next day. It would be Valentine's Day, after all.

The next morning, Valentine's Day, my brother called and told me that our mother had had a massive stroke sometime that morning. They had rushed her to the hospital, and he was on his way to see her.

It was obvious from the start that this was a devastating stroke. My brother saw her shortly after they had applied clotbuster, had gotten the last coherent words out of her. My sister had raced up from her home two hundred miles away after my brother called her that morning. By the time I got to see our mother she had already slipped back into the depths of the stroke. Brain scans showed a huge blockage at the base of her brain and essentially no blood flow throughout. 

We spent the day trying to sort out what the next few days might look like. We all knew her specific instructions: if she were ever in such a state with no hope of recovery, she did not want to be hooked up to machines that would prolong her death. So now the task was to determine if there was any hope of recovery.

It sure as hell looked like the answer was no. We put out the word of what had happened, made arrangements for people to say their goodbyes. We took turns at her bedside in the Critical Care Unit. I was there when our old parish priest stopped by. Her eyes opened wide with recognition as he said hello to her - the most dramatic reaction she had had since the stroke. I left him so he could speak to her in private.

That afternoon a surgeon approached us. He was young and enthusiastic. He had studied her brain scans and thought it might be possible to clear the blockage and restore function. My brother, sister, and I looked at each other: she had specified no heroic actions to keep her alive, but a simple surgery that could reverse the stroke - that was something else entirely. Not that we believed that would be the outcome for a moment. But, what the hell, it was worth a shot. We agreed to let him try.

We waited in the same waiting room where we had waited for her leg surgery to be completed six weeks earlier. After several hours, the surgeon came out and told us he had tried his damnedest, but the blockage just couldn't be budged. We thanked him for trying.

She was returned to the CCU. Now it was time to arrange for hospice care, and the final chapter of her life.




Thursday, February 08, 2024

One year since the fall

One year ago today, my mom left her house for the last time.

She had come home just a few days earlier. She had been discharged from the rehab center, deemed capable of continuing her recovery at home with assistance. But from the start something seemed wrong. While she had been able to walk with her walker during her therapy sessions, she seemed to lose this ability after she came home, except first thing in the morning. 

It was a Wednesday. I had taken the first two days of the week off, as well as the previous Friday when she came home. We had been struggling to get her to walk up to that point, and while she had shown improvement, we agreed she would need me to assist her whenever she walked. Wednesday was my first day back to work. Fortunately I was scheduled to work from home four days a week, and planned to take the fifth day off as often as necessary. Our house is small, so I would never be far from her. She had gotten up that morning, walked herself to the bathroom, walked back out, had breakfast and her morning pills, and went back to bed for a bit. A few hours later I was getting ready to start my work day at 4:00 PM. She got up again, walked to the bathroom with my assistance, and got herself dressed. She watched TV for a while, then settled in for a late lunch. We got her seated at the kitchen table. I served her lunch and turned the TV to her favorite channel. We decided she would stay there until it was time for my first break at 6:00, at which point I would serve her dinner. I started my work day.

As the calls ground on I realized I hadn't turned on the Christmas lights for her since she had come home. I wanted to take them down that weekend, so I decided to flip them on during my first break.

A few minutes before my break, she got up from the kitchen table. She began walking across the kitchen with her walker. I'm not sure what she was planning to do.

The phone rang.

My mom has always had an intense relationship with the phone. Telephones are one of the oldest pieces of modern technology. It's always struck me in my re-readings of The Great Gatsby, set in 1925, that telephones are fairly ubiquitous, but radio broadcasts were wholly absent. I don't know if her family had a telephone when she was a little girl. But as an adult she loved talking on the phone. If you were having a conversation with her and the phone rang, the phone took priority. The phone always took priority.

Mu mom stopped her forward motion. She turned towards the phone, which she had left on the table. She lost her balance. She fell in slow motion as I watched, in the middle of a call.

I watched her hit her head on the seat of her wooden chair.

I aborted the call. I had never done that before, and I have never done it since. I apologized to the caller - who had been on hold for over two hours to speak to me - and told him he would have to call back.

I yanked off my headset, pushed away my computer, got out of my chair. I rushed to my mom.

She seemed OK. She was not at all addled by hitting her head. My first instinct was to help her up. But I knew that among her medicines was a blood thinner that could make a brain bleed more likely. I decided to call my brother, a nurse, to let him know what had happened, to ask if I should call an ambulance. He said to not stand her up, to call an ambulance. I hung up and dialed 911.

I got an ice pack for her head. I opened the front door for when the ambulance showed up.

I didn't strap an N95 respirator on her. I should have.

The ambulance showed up in a few minutes. The crew entered the house, none of them wearing a mask. One immediately had my mom stand up and sit in her chair. Then they put her on a gurney and took her out of the house for the very last time ever.

There was no injury to her head, it turned out. But her ability to walk was assessed to be so poor she would have to go back for remedial therapy. In a few days she was discharged from the hospital back to the rehab center, to the same room she had vacated little more than a week earlier.

She tested positive for COVID-19 on February 13, five days after her trip with an unmasked ambulance crew. She had a stroke the next morning, Valentine's Day. She would die the evening of February 24.


Saturday, February 03, 2024

A sort of homecoming

One year ago today, my mom came home for the last time.

It seemed like she had been away forever. Her leg broke on December 27. Her artificial knee joint was replaced and her leg was repaired within a week, and then she began the long and difficult process of learning to walk again. She was 89. Ten years earlier, even five years earlier, it would have been a different story. But at her age it took much longer to get her to a point where she was judged to be ready to return home.

She was not ready.

We took her out of the rehab center that day. My brother brought her home in his car, while I stopped at the drugstore to have her prescriptions filled. We trundled her into the house, along with all of her luggage and supplies. She was happy to be home, in familiar surroundings. To recline on her own couch, watch her own TV, use her own bathroom. Use her own phone to call her friends whenever she liked. Be with her beloved cats again.

I presented her with a Welcome Home cake. It was a replacement of sorts for the birthday cake we had never had for me.


Home health care wanted to come the very next day, but we felt it was too soon. We hadn't even had a chance to unpack. But their schedules were packed. If they couldn't come that day, it would be several more days before they could fit her in. Close to a week. We rescheduled for them to come back then.

We tried to settle into a routine. Meals, medicine, exercise. The cats were uncertain of her presence at first, but eventually welcomed her back.

There were problems from the start. Each morning she woke up, got herself out of bed, used her walker to walk down the hall to the bathroom. Used the bathroom, used the walker to head back to the kitchen for breakfast. Took a nap. Woke up a few hours later and was unable to walk.

We tried. God, how we tried. It was a struggle. Had she come home too soon? Why could she walk fine in the morning, but found it nearly impossible as the day wore on?

We worked on it, harder and harder. Each day she seemed to get stronger. Each day she could walk a little better.

Until February 8th, the day she fell. 


Monday, January 29, 2024

Me at 56


 Another year under my belt. And a hell of a year it's been.

A year ago my mom was finishing up her physical rehab following her leg repair and knee joint replacement. My birthday was on a Sunday, so she didn't have any therapy that day. We would have passed the day quietly with an unrushed hours-long visit and some quiet birthday wishes. At that point we must have known her time at rehab was coming to an end, that she would be returning home at the end of the week. That week we would receive training for dealing with her at home.

It didn't work out.

We're carrying on, as best we can. No cake today, but I made myself cookies on Saturday. I got pizza yesterday to have yesterday and today and maybe tomorrow. I went to the cemetery yesterday to change the vigil light candle, the first time in weeks. It was raining and cold and it was difficult to light the candle, but eventually I did.

I'll get a cake sometime. Last year we had one on February 3, the day she came home. Maybe I'll do it then.

I watched football yesterday, the Kansas City - Baltimore game. Parts of it, anyway. I saw Ravens QB Lamar Jackson throw a pass to himself. Got a glimpse of Taylor Swift sitting quietly in her box. My mom loved football - one of the last things she ever did was watch last year's Super Bowl. I imagine this year she would be enjoying the heck out of the Travis Kelce - Taylor Swift storyline, would have me bringing her up to speed on who Taylor Swift is, would be saying to me every time his last name was mentioned "Wasn't Kelsey the name of that girl you were seeing?"

I miss her. I have missed her every day since she's been gone, every day since the ambulance took her away December 27, 2022.

While trying to get my timelines straight, I reviewed my blog posts from my mom's time in the hospital, and the rehab, and the hospice. I am so glad I wrote down the list of Eleanorisms back then.

I went to the doctor on January 2 this year, the first time I've been since my femur developed a hairline fracture in late 2019, a fracture that only resolved itself after the world shut down in early 2020, allowing me to stay off the leg for a few weeks. This time we're dealing with some specific problems involving the other leg, which are coming along nicely. He also had me get a full fasting blood test, with the results coming back perfect as usual. Maybe this will be the year I get my life completely on track.


BONUS: Compare these photos, taken today and twenty years ago:



Sunday, December 31, 2023

Another year ending

I spent the last day of 2022 in the hospital visiting my mom. She had just had the surgery to repair her leg, which included replacing her artificial knee joint, and would now begin the long, slow, arduous process of healing, recovery, and learning to walk again.

I stayed with her as late as I could, but eventually the hospital wanted all visitors to clear out. I made my goodbyes, wished her a happy New Year, kissed her, and told her I loved her, as I did every time we parted. I rode the elevator down with a collection of strangers, all at the hospital on New Year's Eve for their own reasons. Not all were headed for the ground floor. But as the elevator stopped at each floor, we all heartily wished any departing passengers a happy New Year.

My mom would be gone in less than two months, but we had no way of knowing then. 

She hasn't been gone a full year. She came back home February 3, but was whisked back to the hospital on February 8. It was during that ambulance ride with a fully unmasked crew that I believe she contracted COVID-19. She tested positive on February 13, and had a massive stroke the next morning, the morning of Valentine's Day. She went into hospice the evening of February 16, passed away on February 24, and was not buried until March 1.

The cats have all attached themselves to me. Amber, who would never let me touch her previously, constantly wants to be with me. Spooky, her littermate, is by my side whenever Amber is not, and has decided to be my bedtime enforcer, letting me know when my time on the Internet is over, sitting by my face as I fall asleep, and checking on me when he judges that it's time to wake up.

Tomorrow marks the 14th anniversary of me grabbing Spooky from where he was sleeping on our back porch. He and Amber were born sometime in early or mid 2009. Peaches was not related to them, at least not through the mother, but was born about the same time. She passed away in October 2023. Both Amber and Spooky are showing signs of age, but I will continue to let them be cats as long as possible.

Mama Cat has also attached herself to me. She always wanted to spend time with my mother - mama-to-mama, I always said. But now that time is spent with me, and her surprise jumps cause me to wince with pain much as they did my mother.

Bojangles has always been my little buddy cat, even as he has grown to enormous size. He continues to be the Diplocat, having friendly relations with every cat in the house (though sometimes he will have epic battles with his mother.) He is especially friendly with Amber - jealousy of this closeness may explain why Mama Cat is especially hostile to her -, and Amber will sometimes beg me for treats only to then run away until Bojangles comes to eat them. (He usually leaves a few for Amber.) 

Spumoni continues to be a schnook, wanting only to be with her mother Mama Cat.

Nobody can say what 2024 holds. I can only hope that deaths and disasters are kept to a minimum.

Best wishes on this, the last day of 2023.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

One year since The Fall

It all started a year ago today.

My sister and my mother had made plans to meet with one of my mother's friends for dinner at Red Lobster. It would be my first day back at work after Christmas - Christmas Day had fallen on a Sunday, so we had had our holiday on Monday the 26th. I was just settling in to get my work day started as they left the house close to 4:00 PM.

Before I could even get set up, I could hear my sister calling me from outside. She was standing over my mom, who was sitting on the sidewalk, her leg tucked under her in a way that seemed unnatural. My sister was already calling an ambulance. They had been walking down the steps, my sister first, followed by my mom, when my mom announced that something felt wrong, that she felt like she was about to fall. And she did just that. My sister kept her from hurting herself as she fell, but still my mother had wound up on the ground and was sitting on the sidewalk. I quickly grabbed a blanket to keep her warm while she waited for the ambulance.

(The fall, we would soon learn, happened because her femur had snapped above the point of attachment of her artificial knee. The artificial knee was strong and did its job perfectly, but all the while it had been transferring stress to the bone around it.)

There was something about my mom's position on the ground, the way her head hung low, looking more dejected than injured, that told me she realized everything that was about to happen.

For three years I had kept my mom safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. I did this by keeping her isolated, and by strictly limiting my own contact with the outside world. She left the house only for doctor's appointments - she typically had one to three appointments each week - and only then while wearing an N-95 or KN-95 mask. I left the house for work (one day a week in the office), grocery shopping, other occasional shopping trips, and to take her to her appointments - always in an N-95 respirator. It was a hell of a way to live, but infinitely preferable to the slow, lingering death promised by a COVID-19 infection for an 89-year-old cancer survivor. (She was only going out to dinner over my strenuous objections.)

And now that protection was gone. Soon she would be transported by an ambulance crew to an emergency room, and then would likely be admitted into the hospital. Each of these steps would involve environments where exposure to COVID-19 would be almost unavoidable.

We managed to thread that needle. Throughout her stay in the hospital, her time at the physical rehab center, she managed to come out without COVID-19. It was only on a return trip to the hospital in early February that she contracted the COVID-19 that would create the blood clots that would give her a massive stroke the morning of Valentine's Day that would result in her death on February 24, 2023.


Thursday, December 21, 2023

Goodbye, SuperTiff

One of my first blogger friends has died.

Tiffany's first blog that I knew of, If I Were Queen of the World, was hacked long ago and is gone. Her self-owned blog, supertiff.com, is also gone. Another one exists, with posts from 2004-2007 and then again from 2013. It also bears the SuperTiff name.

Tiffany was fun and funny and full of life. That life was not without problems, problems that she was very open about. When she was going into rehab in 2011 or so (it actually was 2009, just two years after I met her online) - which she described as an adventure, for which she would be packing her adventure hat - she sent me an address where I could write her. And write her I did, once a day, every day, in a different format each time. One was a traditional letter printed out from my computer. Another was hand-written. Another, written on a napkin. Another was written on vellum. Another, a recaptioned Dinosaur Comics panel. Still another had been cut up into a puzzle.

She wrote me back once, in a letter I have treasured for over a decade.




She moved out to Pittsburgh three years ago. We joked that now that she was so close to me we would have to get together. Now that I look at the actual conversation it really wasn't a joke.


One trip to New York had her swing within twenty-five miles of my house. Alas, we never got to meet in person.

(Later in that same conversation I found this, and it broke my heart.)


I don't know how she died. I just know that she died the evening of Tuesday, December 19. She had been posting to Facebook shortly before she died. I found out about her death when one of her friends posted to her Facebook page referring to her in the past tense.


SuperTiff is gone, and this world is a less wonderful place without her.