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.


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.


Thursday, December 07, 2023

First snow, December 7, 2023

 


My mom loved the passing seasons. She would get excited about the first snow. She loved to see the colorful Autumn leaves. She adored the blossoming of the trees in Spring. And year after year she noted how much bigger the trees of "Penn's Woods" grew in Summer, a phenomenon we chalked up to the warmer, more humid Summers.

I've become something of a recluse since her death. I rarely leave the house except for my one day each week in the office and to go grocery shopping. And for weekly trips to the cemetery, lately to change out the vigil light candle. Used to be I would be taking her out to weekly appointments, sometimes two or three times a week. Those were my outings, my times out of the house to see the changing landscape. Sometimes the appointments were downtown. Sometimes they were a few miles away in Wilkes-Barre. Sometimes I would take the scenic route home, taking her to visit the cemetery or for a ramble through the wooded areas of the Back Mountain. I did that last October after a blood appointment downtown; rather than driving straight home, I took her home by way of Hillside Farms in Shavertown so we could see the brilliantly-colored trees. Neither one of us suspected that in less than five months she would be dead and buried.

This morning she would have run to the windows to see the falling snow, as enthusiastic as she would have been at the sound of passing fire trucks. She would have marveled at the snow-covered landscape. She would have called friends and family to see if they, too, had gotten a measurable snowfall.

Me? I looked out the window and commented to the cats that it had snowed. I stepped out on the front porch to take the picture above and saw that the steps needed cleaning. I didn't have a broom handy, so I half-assed it with a shovel. Temperatures are supposed to be well above freezing for the next two days, so I expect any lingering snow will melt soon.

I'll head out to the cemetery again this weekend.


ADDENDUM:

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, the eighty-second anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. My mom was eight when it happened. Today I wondered: what was that day like for her? Was it a snowy day, like today, maybe the first snow of 1941 in Nanticoke? Where was she when she heard the news? How did my grandparents and their children respond? In all these years we had talked about her experiences during World War II, the terror of air raid drills and evacuating the school to shelter in the basement of the convent next door. But we never spoke about her experiences during December 7, 1941. And now, the first time it occurs to me to ask her about it, I cannot.


Friday, November 24, 2023

The unofficial start of Christmas


 

The day after Thanksgiving marks the unofficial start of the Christmas season in the United States.

Technically, it's not even Advent yet, the season of preparation for Christmas. That doesn't begin until Sunday, December 3 and runs through Sunday, December 24. Christmas is December 24, and the Christmas season runs through January 6 (Epiphany), January 7 (Orthodox Christmas), January 8 (Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, who was baptized by his cousin John at the age of 30), or February 2 (Candlemas/Feast of the Presentation).

My mom's leg broke December 27, 2022, resulting in a series of hospitalizations and sessions of physical rehabilitation. She came home February 3, 2023, but had a fall February 8 and was taken back to the hospital by an unmasked ambulance crew. She tested positive for COVID on February 13. The next morning she had a massive COVID-induced stroke. She went into hospice the evening of February 16 and would die on Friday, February 24.

I had planned to turn all the lights on for her February 8 when I took my lunch break. She had her fall five minutes before that happened.

I never took the tree down. So now I've just plugged it back in.


Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Keeping the Vigil

I knew we had a vigil light in the garage somewhere. This isn't the one I was looking for. There's an old metal-and-glass version somewhere, I think, that we probably last used twenty or so years ago. This one is all plastic and seems to have never been used. Fortunately, I also found a candle for it, though finding the wick was a bit of a trick - I had to dig down through an inch of wax to locate it. I set the vigil light up shortly before sunset on Sunday afternoon and took this picture. As far as I can tell, this is the only one in the cemetery. When I was a kid, the cemeteries around this time would be flickering with dozens of vigil lights. Times have changed, traditions have been forgotten. Now I just have to locate a source for replacement candles - each one is made to last about a week, and I'd like to keep this going through all of November at least.

(The small handbell on the tombstone was placed by my brother. It is something that he received for participating in the Remembrance Walk sponsored by the Hospice of the Sacred Heart, the hospice where our mom spent her final days.)


Monday, October 09, 2023

Peaches, July 2009 - October 9, 2023

Peaches died in my arms shortly after midnight in the early morning hours of Monday, October 9, 2023.



Peaches was born during the kitten season of summer 2009, when so many kittens were born, and so many died. Her mother was a tortoiseshell we called Tortoise, and I have always counted Peaches as a pale Tortoiseshell, though others call her a Calico. She had a littermate we posthumously named Cream, a white kitten even more sickly than Peaches who died in the neighbor's garden after just a few weeks. Peaches lived in our yard for a few weeks, watching me from what she must have thought was a position of concealment, hissing at me if I looked her way or acknowledged her existence. After a while my mom decided the kitten needed to come inside, and she managed to catch her barehanded.


After she got a clean bill of health from the vet - or maybe before - we set ourselves to the task of naming her. My mom wanted to call her "Cloud." The neighbor lady suggested "Precious Face." We agreed to my suggestion, "Peaches," because she had the color scheme of a somewhat overripe peach.


She was mostly a quiet cat and kept to herself, at least at first. Eventually she buddied up with BlueBear, but after he died in 2017 at age eight, she was terribly lost for a while. In the last few years she had attached herself to my mom as her "special cat," competing with Babusz and Amber. Peaches was a plump cat with her fur stretched tight, making it difficult to pick her up by the scruff of the neck.

After my mom died Peaches attached herself to me, sitting at my side as I worked, and sometimes sitting on my hand as I tried using the mouse. I didn't mind. I knew she was going through a lot - we all were. She kept this up for a few months until one day she stopped. She suddenly wasn't there. Instead she had moved onto the kitchen table - sometimes sitting on any open surface, sometimes sitting on top of old stacks of mail. Sometimes she would sit and stare at the wall a few inches away. Sometimes she would stare at the wall and yowl.

She kept this up for several weeks until suddenly she wasn't there anymore. I did a quick search and found her in front of the oven on the other side of the kitchen. She mostly just lounged there, sometimes staring into the reflective surface of the black oven door. But sometimes she would let out yowls, something she had never done before she had moved onto the kitchen table. And sometimes she would let out another cry, a screaming, squalling cry like the sort a baby would make upon waking up hungry, frightened, and alone. If I were in the next room I would call to her and offer her assurances that the was not alone, that I was right here. That I loved her, and her mommy loved her, and everybody loved her. That was often enough to calm her.

Until one day in August she wasn't there, either. Where could she be? I searched the house twice and couldn't find her. Then I thought to look in the bathtub, and there she was. The weather had shot into the 90s and the air conditioning was struggling to keep the house in the low 80s, so the bathtub was the coolest spot around. That became her new place of refuge. I would pick her up and take her to the kitchen every few hours for meals - she had lost weight, and it was now becoming easier to carry her by her scruff.

In the morning, leery of startling her, I would sing songs to her as I approached, often made up on the spot - songs like "Peaches, Peaches, You're So Sweet" to the tune of "Biggie, Biggie, Can't You See," and "Little Peaches" to the cadence of the traditional "Hari Krishna" chant. And of course "Peaches" by the Presidents of the United States of America.

Her crying continued, irregularly, and when I would rush to see what was the matter I would often find her sitting on the tile floor, waiting for me to come get her.

This continued until about two weeks ago. Then, suddenly, something came over her. She would no longer wait for me to come and get her for her feedings - she jumped out of the bathtub on her own, came out to the kitchen on her own, and jumped onto the kitchen chairs to get onto the kitchen table and her food bowl. Her appetite got stronger, so I had to open extra cans of food just for her. (She no longer wanted the kitten food that she had been eating for weeks, now she wanted the same food everyone else was eating.) She seemed to be gaining weight again.

That stopped a few days ago. She became less energetic, less willing to come out on her own. She eschewed the bathtub for other resting spots in the bathroom.

Saturday she became very picky about her food. Uninterested in anything as I opened can after can for her. For the first time since my mom went into the hospital, I found myself throwing away food.

Saturday I spent much of the day holding her while she dozed. Sunday more so. At first she would sleep only a few minutes, then awake with a start and decide she wanted to be somewhere else. On Sunday, early on, I decided that the somewhere else should be at the food and water bowls. It worked the first few times; she ate and drank with gusto. But as the day turned into night, she lacked the energy to even try to eat and drink.

As midnight approached, I knew the time was drawing near. I took her back into the parlor, sat in my chair, wrapped her in a blanket, held her in my arms, and covered her with another blanket. I sang her songs. I told her her mommy was waiting for her, how lucky she was that she would be the first of us to join her. I petted her, stroked her peach-colored fur, kissed her on the head. Bojangles came to join us for a few minutes.

After a while I knew she was gone. I kept petting her, kept singing to her. I checked the time - it was just after midnight. I sat holding her for the next hour to be sure. then I laid her out in a box and covered her with a blanket.

She was still dead in the morning.

This afternoon I took her to be cremated.



Sunday, October 01, 2023

Amber in close-up

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently downloaded a magnifier app for my phone. I can save images from it, making it a good camera app for macro images. Today Amber jumped up on me for the umpteenth time. While my mom was alive Amber wanted absolutely nothing to do with me, but in the subsequent months she has completely attached herself to me. Like Peaches, like her littermate Spooky, Amber is fourteen years old, and I know she won't be around forever. I wanted to get a zoom of her amber hair, but she kept moving around, blurring the image. I did have a little more luck getting portrait shots of her, though.





Saturday, September 30, 2023

All the things she doesn't need anymore


Newspaper text imaged with phone magnifier app

When I worked in the entertainment manufacturing business, it seemed I was constantly noticing news about music, movies, manufacturing, and the latest developments in ways of getting music and movies to consumers. When I was in the travel business every other commercial seemed to be for a travel website, every news report about this major weather event or that failure of an airline's computer system. When I moved on to work at a cable/telephone/internet provider, every commercial seemed to be trying to get me to switch to another provider. In my current job, almost every commercial and news story seems to be directly related to what I'm doing.

My mom had many physical issues in her final years. She hadn't driven in nearly ten years, since an accident that landed her in the hospital overnight and did minor damage sufficient to total her previous car. (Except one time she apparently snuck out of the house and used the car she had bought as a replacement without anyone knowing. I noticed it later when I found that the seat and steering wheel had been adjusted for someone much smaller than me, her assigned chauffeur.) She was losing dexterity and strength in her hands; she couldn't hold things without dropping them, had difficulty writing, and couldn't raise her hands above her shoulders. Her chronic joint pain caused her to slather her knees with pain-killing ointments. The posts on the caps on her teeth lost purchase in her jawbone, requiring removal of all of her upper teeth and replacement with an upper denture plate. Her blood chemistry was problematic, requiring regular blood tests and frequent tweaks to her medications. Her breast cancer, once dealt with, never returned; her heart valve replacement served her well; her knee joint replacements were problem-free, until the day her one leg snapped just above the knee joint.  

After my mom died, every commercial seemed to be for something targeted towards her. Some were things she already had, or was already using. Others were for things she could have used, things that would have made her life better. Things she doesn't need anymore.

She was losing her eyesight thanks to macular degeneration, a condition we dealt with through frequent trips to a specialist for treatments and the purchase of a great many magnifiers of all sorts. She loved to read the obituary pages every day, and regularly read Reader's Digest and the weekly checkout magazine Women's World. For the last few years I had subscribed her to the large print edition of Reader's Digest, but there was no such option for the daily newspaper of Women's World. Most magnifiers top out at 1.5x, a rare few at 3x. We experimented with many different styles and types of magnifiers, and had settled on a lighted rectangular 3x magnifier for the kitchen table, and a slightly less powerful handheld magnifying glass for the bathroom. Even with these, she still had difficulty reading.

Today during a meeting it occurred to me that I would like to get a USB-connected microscope for my Chromebook. No special reason, I would just like to get one to look at stuff. Later, while doing a search (on my break), I came across mentions of a magnifier app for your phone. I had considered full-page magnifiers for the newspaper for my mom, or something that could connect to a Chromebook. My mom was never interested in computers, which is why we never considered simply having her read the online edition of the newspaper with the text set to Large. Nor did she care much about the smartphone she had to trade up to when her old flip phone became obsolete and unsupported. (Her lack of finger dexterity made the new phone virtually unusable.) So I never even thought about the possibility of using the camera on her phone to magnify the text in the newspaper.

Seven and a half months after her stroke, I can report that the magnifier app would have worked just fine to address her reading issues.


Friday, September 22, 2023

Carved in stone

 


A lifetime summarized in a dash. My mom lived to be nearly 89 years and 6 months old. It took more than six months to get this engraving done. (The engraver was delayed initially due to a hip replacement, and then...he forgot.)