Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Funeral

The minister at my parent's tiny country church is a high school history teacher. A pleasant sort of fellow, not complicated, but the sort of fellow who would satisfy the needs of a poor, rural congregation.

When my father died, the minister was in bed with suspected pneumonia. My mother said that she wasn't sure he would be able to officiate at the funeral. I told her not to concern herself, that we (my father's children) would be completely capable of conducting a funeral. In fact, I have planned and taken part in a number of funerals, though not my father's, for a number of years when I was studying for ordained ministry. (This didn't happen... long story)

I sent her a proposed outline for such a service. Very broad... like Opening Prayer, hymn, scripture reading, eulogy, scripture reading, hymn, homily of some description, hymn, prayer and dismissal. She replied that she thought that the minister would be recovered sufficiently, and that since he had been a part of their lives for the last 28 years, he would want to be involved, and probably nothing as formal as what I had proposed.


The problem is that my mother is genetically unable to plan. Anything. Retirement, weddings, graduations, college, all passed by without any to-do, or any planning. We all mostly put ourselves through college, which is not a bad thing altogether, but we paid for our own weddings, our own graduate schools, our own everything. We also began to contribute surreptitiously to a retirement account for our parents when they were in their fifties, because they weren't doing anything Somehow my mother was incapable of planning (yea, even expecting that they would happen) for any of these life events. And my father was out of the loop on most of these things. He was never actually aware of anything beyond the day-to-day knowledge that we had enough cash on hand for milk and bread. He actually said to me, after being homebound for a number of years, "I never DREAMED that anything like this could happen." Evidently he believed in the tooth fairy, as well.

So, the minster got better and he did the service. My mother's cousin Jack, who come from a family of singers on his father's side, as well as a good number of singers on we, his mother's side, led the singing, and chose some fairly standard funeral fare for this group.

The little church was packed with maybe 200 people. I saw folks I hadn't seen in a lifetime, including a baby I babysat in high school who had just turned 35 on Groundhog Day.

The "tradition" in this community is to open the box at the end of the service for a final goodbye. Not for me. I told my mother as much, but evidently she has to live among these folks and they just would have never forgiven her for leaving the box shut. So, as I saw them opening the box, I exited, stage right.

I went into the tiny lobby, and following me and my beloved husband was my beloved oldest friend, who is good to have around at times like these. We managed to summon enough dignity not to do anything publicly odd, and went around to the side door to greet the souls exiting after their final goodbye. We were goood.

After everyone exited, they loaded up everything and headed for the graveyard. It's a tiny graveyard, overlooking the interstate, and the plots are only $100 so local municipalities have buried some of their indigents there, too. We lined up piously behind the white hearse, and started the two-mile drive down there.

The only landmark between the little town and the graveyard is, sitting on the nearby Interstate, a casino owned by the Citizen Potawatomi tribe. It is the only structure nearby, with a Jumbotron that you can see for miles before you get there. The Cap'n says that it compares favorably with some of the medium-quality Las Vegas casinos he has visited, but since I'm not a casino-person, I don't know. However, Wayne Newton was there on Valentine's Day. They also have something called "Freestyle Cage Fighting" and Vicki Lawrence ("Mama" of "Mama's Family") is appearing in April. It's HUGE. It's GAUDY. And as we quietly, reverently drove by, the lead car, driven by my brother and containing my mother, two brothers, niece and sister in law, turned on their turn-signal, as if to enter the casino and play a little Texas Hold'Em. In the second car, driven by my brother in law, and containing my sister, my two aunts and an uncle, turned on his turn signal as well.

We, being tasteful sorts, did not follow their lead. And we were sure that it would confuse all those behind us.

We were not the worst people at the funeral.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


My father died this morning.

I'm glad he's not sick any more. I'm sorry that he spent the last ten years of his life sitting in his house. I think his doctor did not do him a service by looking at him and seeing an old man who needed palliative care, instead of encouraging him to rehabilitate, and teach him to use the tools he did have. Instead, he told him things like "I'm surprised you're still alive."

I think if anyone told me that, I'd shoot myself, just to ruin their surprise.

He was born in coal mining country. My grandfather was a sometime miner, sometime truck driver, sometime gas station attendant. I never met my grandmother. She divorced my grandfather when my father was a little boy. He was raised by a series of stepmothers, aunts, grandmothers, with a lot of cousins. He lost a sister when she was very young. I have seen one picture of that sister, and she looks like my baby pictures. She had "infantile paralysis," which can actually mean anything. Properly, it refers to polio, but she appears to have some sort of neurological deficit, from what one can tell from a seventy-year-old photograph. He has one sister, one half-sister and one half-brother surviving. (His half-brother has a stepson whom I refer to as my half-step-cousin.)

He left school in the ninth grade, and went to work. He joined the Air Force at seventeen, and went to South Korea and unloaded cargo planes. He returned to the US and married my mother in 1954. He took his GI benefit and learned to be an electrician, which he did for most of the rest of his life. He belonged to an amateur band for many years, where he played the guitar and sang harmony.

He like country music, the Dallas Cowboys, Oklahoma football, Kentucky basketball, coconut cream pie, jalepeƱo peppers, greasy chili, gravy on everything, and the most important activity in his life was attending church. Three times a week, unless there was something special going on at the church, and he'd be there in addition.

He was a simple fellow, lots of black and white, not a lot of shades of gray in his understanding. Nuance and subtletly completely escaped him.

He is already missed.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Time Marches On

I didn't even recognize the second anniversary of my diagnosis. Of course, I remembered it when I saw the date, but you, my vast reading public, did not hear from me. This must be getting routine.

My dad just came home from the hospital this week, a bit sadly, with care from Hospice. He did not recover well from the cold that sent him to the ICU after New Years, but when I called this morning, he answered the phone. He isn't himself, because he has a hard time remembering relationships (he called my brother "your uncle") and he is easily confused. But he can get to the computer from his bed, and play solitaire, and he can play his guitar a little. I don't know if he can sing. He used to sing constantly. He burst forth in song at odd moments; in the middle of breakfast, at my sister's rehearsal dinner, while driving down the road. Now his wind is too precious for song.

I went to see my doc for my second anniversary present. I saw my doc, my NP, and some docs from the National Institutes of Health, who are working with the PH patients at my clinic. Everything looks fairly normal, 400 meter six minute walk, no problem with my liver, and I appear to be fairly stable. Hooray!

NIH doesn't do a lot of stuff on their campus treatment-wise, but they do a LOT of clinical trials there. So, if you have cancer, or diabetes, or IPF, or PH, you may go there for studies or trial treatments, but not for a long-term treatment. The nice part about it is that they pay for all the tests, so, for example, if I were in a trial there, they would do a right heart cath, and an echocardiogram and lots of bloodwork, and my insurance would not be billed and I wouldn't have any co-pays. However (and isn't there always a however, even if there's no but?), there are some side effects to some of these treatments.

The doc talked to me about taking part in some of the studies. I was asked to be in a study last year, but it turns out I'm too healthy for it. A great reason to be rejected! However, there are some other studies coming up that I may be eligible for. He said that the one he thought would come up next is a mild 16 week course of Taxol (the breast cancer chemo drug). He said Taxol works by killing fast growing cells, which the overgrown endothelium and the plexiform lesions in my pulmonary vasculature are made of. "Oh, by the way, for that reason it may also make your hair fall out." He just kind of dropped that one in passing. I'm just vain enough that this may be an issue. But who knows? Maybe starting from scratch will be an improvement? And maybe I'll find out how gray I actually am... eek!

Today I went to church and helped out with a confirmation class. I made a Powerpoint presentation, modeled after a Jeopardy Game, with answers and questions about the Old Testament. I made the questions too hard for this generation of young Christians in formation. Next week, we'll have the Who Wants To Be A New Testament Millionare? game, and a much easier version.

Afterward I came home and picked up my husband and we had an elegant lunch at a very elegant little joint in downtown Old Town. Today was a busy day for him on the phone, evidenced by the fifteen minute phone call he took in the middle of lunch. Then we went down the street to my new favorite shoe store, and he bought a pair of decent dress shoes (he always buys whatever he can find at the discount closeout store), and sadly, they had a sale on and I bought two new pairs of shoes, one a pair of Icon ballet slippers with Botticelli's Venus on the Halfshell tattooed into the leather, another a pair of Zeeta clogs (cork sole like Birckenstock's), black leather with gold skull and crossbones printed. They look like shoes that I need on the boat in case pirates attack! He got Ecco perforated wing tips. Both of mine were cheaper than one of his...

I realize that I don't think that I've told you that the Captain has a new job. He has worked for more than twenty years for the Federal Aviation Administration, first in Orlando for twelve years, and now in Washington. Just before we went to England in July he was selected to be the manager of the accident investigation division of the agency. The division's territory is worldwide, for US air carriers, and for all US-manufactured aircraft or componants (for example, some of the airplanes built in Canada and Europe have engines built in the US). And he gets beeped and called for every accident or incident of any consequence. Today he was beeped nineteen times before lunch. He doesn't have to respond to all of them, but they do let him know about all of them (by text message at the beep). Sometimes he has to respond, and he has a staff of eleven very experienced, very expert and very respected investigators who are on call 24/7 to hop on the next plane to Timbuktu, if necessary. One of his guys has been in London for the last couple of weeks, looking at the possible causes for the British Airways plane that landed short of the runway at Heathrow. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in that one, and fortunately for the investigator, he's in London and not in Timbuktu.

We get a lot of phone calls in the middle of the night. They don't scare me anymore. Especially when I see the phone number of the communications center on the caller ID on the phone.