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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Condolences

My siblings, grandparents, mom and I have all appreciated the many sympathy cards that we have received over the past nine days. What we have most appreciated are the handwritten notes that have supplemented the pre-composed remarks printed on the cards--anyone can sign their name to generic thoughts, but it takes genuine effort to pen your own! Some of these individual remarks have been more than just a few lines of compassion, real little stories about Daddy's effect on the writer's life. I'd like to share one example, addressed to my mother by the sister of my father's best friend Sam:

Dear [EK],

I was shocked and saddened to hear of [your husband's] death. Even though I didn't see him often, I cried, realizing how much I will miss his exuberant warmth & sincere concern for people.

I worked with him in the University [Hospital] Recovery Room for almost 4 yrs (~1990-1994). I was shy & insecure then, but my spirit always lifted when I heard his voice (he always chattered as he brought his patients from OR to PACU). He talked to everyone, but he always made a special point to talk to me (since I was Sam's sister!). He sincerely wanted to know how I was doing. My best friend (Heather) also was a nurse there and said that he made everyone feel that way.

[Your husband] was so different from the other doctors there. Often they would make disparaging comments about their wives, but [your husband] glowed when he spoke of you & of his kids. He once said "EK is far more intelligent than I am." Frankly, it was refreshing and a joy to see a man who was happy in his marriage.

[Your husband] was also humble. One evening in PACU, we were bombarded with patients (& only 2 nurses). [Your husband] was on call & as he rolled his patient in, he asked "How can I help?" He then helped me transport a patient up to the floor. I've never had another physician volunteer to help in such a way

I will really miss him. My heart hurts for you and your children to lose him at such a young age. He was a man who practiced his faith every day. I will be praying for you and your family.


I am so grateful that Daddy made comparatively small decisions (talking to people, really listening to them, recognizing needs and reacting to do what he could to meet them) that had such a huge positive effect on others' lives. My grief at missing him is growing, as the adrenalin which marked my first week of reaction to the news of his death is wearing off.

Monday, I was shaking with nervous energy all day, filling my car with items to take to Goodwill, creating an enormous pile of Susan's stuff in the living room, vacuuming and dusting, even behind long-unshifted furniture. I tore down almost all the curtains, threw away papers, watered my erstwhile "garden." Yesterday, I was desperate to get out of the house. Susan's parents invited me to meet them and the newlyweds for brunch, and then I went to Leah's house for an hour, stopping to drop off the Goodwill load and retrieve a rug from the cleaner's on the way. Then I went directly to Maryland to work on an estate sale. I knew I was near the breaking point. I finally really, truly broke down in body-convulsing sobs when I was in the client's closet, tagging clothes, and ran across a show-polishing kit. The sight and scent triggered memories of Daddy polishing his shoes when I was little, and I cried and cried and cried. It was the first time I'd let myself feel the horror of not having him here, knowing that in this lifetime, however long I live, I'll never get to speak to him again, never hug him, never share weird dreams with him, never hear him carping about how I'm selling myself short, accomplishmentswise. It's just awful, the worst thing I've gone through thus far. If I have car trouble, computer trouble, technical questions, medical issues, financial concerns, I'll have to deal with them some other way than by calling him and asking him for advice. He'll never again tell me how beautiful I am, how smart I am, how I have funny-looking feet, or how I ought to bleach my hair blond. It's so weird, surreal, and so forth, to be sitting at the computer where he sat just ten days ago (I drove back down to GA today) and know that he won't come slamming through the door: Crash! thump, thump, thump, to get something off his desk or lie down on the couch behind me to play solitaire on his PDA.

I miss his calling patients (also while lying on the couch, taking notes):

"Hello, this is Dr. P--I'm calling for Jane Doe. Who am I speaking with? Ms. Doe, I'm an anesthesiologist and I'm putting you to sleep for Dr. Smith tomorrow. I understand you're having surgery on your left knee--is that right? Now, why are you having that surgery? Hm. Well, I need to ask you a few questions. Do you have any diabetes? Hypertension? Free-bleeding tendencies? Hepatitis? Have you ever had any heart problems? Uh-huh. What was the name of your cardiologist? Did he give you a stress test? What were the results? Are you a smoker? How many packs a day? Have you had any surgery before? When was that? Did you have any problems with anesthesia? Any chance you might be pregnant? Now, do you take any medications regularly? What's the dosage on that? Now, for your safety, it's important that your stomach's empty tomorrow when I put you to sleep. Have you already had supper? Good. Now, until midnight tonight you can have clear liquids only. After midnight, don't take anything by mouth--that means no ice, no chewing gum, no water. Except, I want you to take that [name of medicine] with just a sip of water when you wake up in the morning. Now, how tall are you and how much do you weigh? Do you have any questions I can answer for you? All right, I'll see you tomorrow at the hospital--remember, take that [medicine] with just a sip of water, but nothing else. Bye-bye."

It was always interesting listening to Daddy's side of these nightly dialogues because people's symptoms and situations varied so much: some people had a whole litany of past surgeries, complaints about pain, lists of medications, and questions. Others had shockingly bad height/weight ratios, which Daddy repeated carefully to himself as he made his notes, and I and my mother would roll our eyes at each other as Daddy kindly repeated: "Five-two, three hundred twenty-five pounds."

What was neat to me was how Daddy almost always remembered his past patients--even ones that he'd sedated for procedures decades earlier--and so many requested his services when they had to go under the knife again. I suppose there's nothing like trusting the guy who's breathing for you when you are out cold on an operating table. I am proud that Daddy always did good work in a compassionate way. I miss him terribly.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Funeral And A Wedding

Paxifist and Mary drove all the way from Mebane, NC, and Rockville, MD, respectively, to attend the viewing Tuesday evening and Daddy’s funeral Wednesday afternoon. Leah had to attend another friend’s father’s funeral Wednesday and so flew down that night, only to get stuck in Atlanta until Thursday morning, when the other two retrieved her and the three of them came over to spend several hours entertaining my fantastically energetic niece and nephew while the rest of my family stumbled around the house in various states of stupor and tears or fled to exercise. They then whisked me away northwards, so I would be back in DC in time for Susan’s wedding rehearsal Friday.

Tuesday morning my mother and I and my sister and sister-in-law went to the funeral home (Thomas Poteet and Sons on Davis Road in Augusta—they did a superb job, kind and professional) bringing Daddy’s glasses and wedding ring so they could be put on his body before the viewing. They ushered us into the huge parlor where the casket was, and there were flowers all along the wall, even from my cousin’s workplace and mine. My mom really appreciated the flowers. My father’s body looked like him—though there was a spot on the side of his nose from his falling dead they’d had to cover with foundation, and the inner edge of his lips seemed plastic—but his hands were shriveled claws, and they and his face were hard from the embalming fluid. I kept thinking about Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility as my mother’s face crumpled and my sister clipped a lock of his hair for a memento. The undertaker told us that we could bring pictures to display during the viewing that evening, and so when we got back home I ransacked the walls and shelves for photographs. The empty hooks were appalling.

The viewing went on for four hours instead of the scheduled two. We arrived a little after five (it wasn’t supposed to begin until 6), and the line, which at times stretched outside the funeral home, didn’t disappear until after nine (the event technically ended at 8). The most terrible sight for me was watching my stoic Navy brother Bob—whom I haven’t seen cry since he was a toddler—burst into tears upon seeing the silent contents of the silvery casket. The four of us kids went out of the parlor and sat on a couch, teary and numb, as relatives and friends began arriving early. Almost all my cousins (one is in her residency in obstetrics in Pennsylvania and had tried desperately to find a flight and simply couldn’t, the other two work in Colorado), on both sides of the family, came, and my aunts and uncles. Nurses from the hospital—a handful still in their scrubs, straight from work—came (some had worked with Daddy for over 25 years, and all were kind—one had been talking about heaven with Daddy while they worked together on Friday), and doctors (some were obviously preening themselves on their sensitivity in showing up, my Atlanta brother Nate noted later), folks from church, including an Indian missionary and his wife, who told my mother that Daddy had saved his life by correctly diagnosing his hepatitis years ago, and the owner of the Indian restaurant my parents loved, who told me how much she loved his dancing to the Bollywood music whenever they came in to eat. So many of them said over and over how much he clearly loved Mums and how proud he had been of his children, how he talked about us all the time. People I’d never met before knew our names and our interests, and spoke repeatedly about how willing Daddy was to help them, how much he knew, how smart he believed his wife and we kids were.


In the funeral home chapel.

The funeral was lovely. I had typed up most of the order of service and the words to the hymns. Probably a decade ago, for some reason I’d asked Daddy what was his favorite hymn, and as we’d flipped through the hymnal he’d flagged literally every other one: “I want this one sung at my funeral”. After fifty pages or so, I’d run out of Post-it notes, and realized that, like me, he just loved the great Church “oldies.” So Mums picked out three of her favorites, which meant he would have approved of all of them. She also wrote the bio for the back of the bulletin. Daddy’s photo, which appeared on the front of the funeral home pamphlet, she had made just Sunday morning. Daddy was ushering at church, and Mums is in charge of the church pictorial directory, and so she was in the vestibule snapping pictures of members as they arrived for the service. She was getting frustrated with the camera (no matter what she did, she was still getting background shadows), and Daddy came over to calm her down, and said, “Why don’t you take a picture of me?” So she did. It was the last one she took.



I was a bit late—due to truly unprecedentedly awful Beltway traffic—to Susan’s wedding rehearsal on Friday. Forty-five minutes, actually. Her sister, the matron of honor, was even later. I started sobbing several times during rehearsal and wondered how I was going to get through the wedding. Her parents had told everyone about Daddy, though, so they didn’t look at me weirdly. The honey-baked ham my mother had insisted I take with me in a cooler when I left home was consumed at the rehearsal dinner afterwards. Shakespeare proved opportune once again, as the “funeral meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables” though not with the tragic Hamlet aftereffects. I spent the night at Leah’s. Kitten therapy in the middle of the night courtesy of Bonnie and Clyde, a brother-sister pair of little purrers she recently acquired from a rescue organization. I haven’t been sleeping well, waking up all face-swollen, which makes me wonder if I’ve been crying in my sleep.

I didn’t cry before or at the wedding, and managed to smile and smile and not be a villain. It seemed uncommonly short, and I wondered why my feet were aching in my silver shoes afterwards when Susan’s brother commented that the service had lasted seventy-five minutes. My sense of time is skewed. The wedding party went in a limo to some fountains in Crystal City for pictures (several quincinera parties had the same idea on this warm, sunny Saturday) and thence to the hotel for the reception. I didn’t have to duck out until the father-daughter dance, which was emotionally overwhelming. Thank God, Leah came along in Mums’ place as my “date” to keep an eye on me. The food was delicious. I was losing my self-control again when another bridesmaid distracted me by taking me out on the dance floor. Later, I danced with the NPV, Lad, and a Burundian named Michel, all of whom rocked and twirled me so I could think of little else except trying to keep time and on my feet. Incidentally, the NPV had gone all the way to David's Bridal in Springfield to get the ring pillow that I was responsible for supplying. It was a joyful wedding, and Susan and Steven bade us goodnight a little after nine. I can honestly say I enjoyed myself, but the Tolkien observation about feeling “thin and stretched” emotionally, like “butter over too little bread” hit me Sunday morning.


Current and Former Calvert Girls flank a dapper Mr. B


The happy newlyweds in the limo on the way to the reception.

Dex drove me to church on my request. I don’t think I would have made it otherwise. I didn’t cry until I was safe in Sunday school, having not shed a tear during the Father’s Day Ephesians 6:5 sermon. I was hugged until I felt safe and loved. So many dear fellow believers, fellow travelers, in my class. Thank God for my church. They prayed for me and my mom and our family, and you could hear the whispered “yes, Lords” and “Amens” rising from around the room. Sunday afternoon naps are also a gift from God. I wish I could sleep even more, but my apartment’s a wreck, and I spent the whole day today cleaning it. Flora, a former fashion designer from Alabama, is helping me turn the chaos into orderly interior design. It's already coming together beautifully, just thanks to her rearranging items I already own.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mourning Daddy

The sermon yesterday morning was on honoring your father and mother, and the Sunday School lesson was on the celebration of rest.

Just having Daddy beyond my reach is almost unbearable. I want to talk to him so badly. I want him to hug me when I walk through the door. I want him to be sitting at the kitchen table in his ratty old green terrycloth robe, his hair hanging down and his eyes starting out of their sockets behind his glasses as someone startles him by just coming into the room. Daddy startles easily. I’ve seen him just about jump from his skin when the deacons pass the plate at church.

I love his stories, his verbal visuals of events from work and childhood, his “retellings” of movies that so often were far more entertaining than the films themselves. I love his fixing things—a dexterity that my brother Nate has inherited—just knowing how to wire and plumb and build and do an excellent job at it. I love his outgoing aspect, his willingness to engage fully with people, finding them fascinating. He was firmly dedicated to our family (both sides and his children’s in-laws), and revelled in sampling new experiences.

He was incredibly generous—I remember the afternoon that he took me to Atlanta and we not only went shopping and ate lunch in a posh restaurant at Phipps Plaza, he also bought me a pair of floral gold and silver earrings at James Avery (I am wearing them right now).

I love that he took the need for personal salvation seriously, praying with his patients and witnessing to his colleagues, despite the fact that his temper sometimes tripped him up. I’m usually too afraid to talk about my faith, because I know I’ll screw up, but he didn’t let this fear of failure quell him, and he became more and more Godly as the years went on.

I am so sorry that several of my friends did not get to meet him. Of course, given that my mother has always told me, “You are your father’s clone!” they already have, in a way. But he was a much better storyteller than I am, with a broader range of experiences, from military to civilian doctoring; having been the son of a first-generation immigrant and having risen from abject poverty to enviable prosperity also marked him.

My eyes are shrunken and burning. All the tears have eaten, acid-like, into the whites, which are stained red.

Dex took me to the airport and sat with me for over an hour while we waited for my delayed plane. Delta charged me $25 for checking my suitcase of mourning clothes. I think I will write them a nasty letter about this. Insult to misery. Because of the delay for “technical reasons” in Washington, I missed my connecting flight in Atlanta (where I wrote most of this, but where it wasn’t posted because Hartsfield doesn’t provide free wifi), and was forced to wait until 5:40 to depart on the next leg of my journey.

It does me good to write. Sure beats crying and blowing my nose until it is the size of a plantain.

I am tired. I slept perhaps three hours last night, despite three Ibuprofen (my jaw was so painful I could barely open it) and three Ativan. I was considering the need to call our family internist to see if he could give me a quick prescription for something that’ll enable me to rest, but on my arrival home my mom told me that he had already sent over prescription for a "family-size" bottle with a bouquet of flowers.

My dear sister-in-law is writing thank-you notes for the food and supplies that people have been bringing by. We have two hams, and more carbs than you could shake a stick at. The funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at 1 PM. I should be able to be back in DC in time for Susan's wedding rehearsal on Friday.

It's going to be rough to see Daddy's empty body lying in a casket tomorrow at the visitation.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Daddy

My dear Daddy died of a massive heart attack this evening while he was running on the treadmill at the gym. The other patrons said that he just fell, without trying to catch himself, and though CPR was immediately performed, they never got a heartbeat. At 8 PM, my mom got a call from the emergency room that they "needed a relative present" and she immediately called me to be praying, as she knew that Daddy had been at the gym and something bad must have happened. I called my siblings and my brothers immediately got on their way to Augusta--the one from Atlanta with my dear sister-in-law and the other from Charleston, SC. Less than 10 minutes later Mums called me back to say that Daddy was dead.

I am very aware of God's presence right now. I know that Daddy is with Him, but I miss him terribly. It's really surreal--his telephone and beeper numbers are in my phone, it's like I can just dial and he'll pick up, and all of this will go away.

Thank God that Daddy knew Jesus as his Lord and as his Savior. Thank God that he knew all of us kids were believers and that we loved him. Thank God that he got home early enough from work Friday to go with my mom to a movie. Thank God that I got to talk to him just a few days ago (Thursday, I think) and share fun memories of him taking me to movies when I was really little. He also told me (appropo of nothing I said) that "girls should ask their fathers about the men the want to marry." I won't get a chance to.

I don't remember if I told him I loved him when we last talked, but I am reminding myself that saying those words at that particular moment don't matter--we'd both said them to each other many, many times before.

He was only 61. That's so very, very young. My mom and he had been married for forty years. My grandparents haven't been told yet, unless my mom called them--I talked to my aunt and she and my uncle plan to drive to see them first thing tomorrow morning and tell them the news in person. Grandmommy and Daddy adored one another, and it's going to be doubly hard on her to lose her senior son-in-law at the same time that she is dealing with the increasing dementia of her own husband of 63 years.

We appreciate the prayers of all our Christian siblings, known and unknown.

I hope to leave for GA tomorrow morning, provided I've been able to sleep tonight. I don't have anyone to accompany me yet. My sister and brother-in-law and their children are driving down from New Hampshire, where they just went this morning on a long-awaited and long-deserved vacation. This has just caught us broadside, and we're wobbly.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Just A Little Busy

I didn't get home until after midnight last night. "Home" being a relative term, as it's a cat-sitting gig out in Fairfax, and when I arrived I realized that today (Wednesday) was trash day and none of the rubbish bins had been dumped. I finished up another cat-sitting job yesterday morning in Falls Church (two hours there), rushed to put in a full day at the Bethesda gallery (seven and a half hours there), and then went directly thence to the estate sale I'm helping with in Kensington (five hours there), then back to Fairfax.

Some recreation has been shoehorned in betwixt my other commitments. Sunday, after cat care and church, but before estate sale work, the NPV and my friend Flora and I went to the Washington Post Hunt. I was so grateful to have two friends on my team. We came pretty close to winning, believe it or not. We figured out all five initial puzzles (in time to hide from a short but torrential downpour underneath one of the sponsorship tents), and the NPV managed to winkle out where the final clue was, but there we got stuck for a few minutes, and minutes made the difference, much to his disgust. Victory next year! Monday, I made it to trivia, and we finished second ($15 gift certificate toward food and drink).

This cat-sitting job runs through the early part of next week, and then I'm totally devoted to Susan and her wedding. And to making two panfuls of baklava--1 1/2 for her rehearsal dinner, and 1/2 for my boss's wedding shower Sunday afternoon, the day after Susan's and Steven's nuptials.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Holey Happiness

Tomorrow (June 4) is National Doughnut Day. Isn't that cool?! The big chains (and probably some local shops--I'm speaking to you, Rhode Island) are all offering free doughnuts. You have to buy a beverage to get one at Dunkin, but Krispy Kreme doesn't require an accompanying purchase.

Speaking of sweet high-caloric bliss, the colonel "mother" of the cat-sitting gig I'm doing left a pint of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream in the freezer. The nutritional information is horrifying: 360 calories for HALF A CUP and 26 grams of fat for the same volume. I love ice cream, and peanut butter is one of the staffs of life (I bless the memory of George Washington Carver!), but that's like eating a stick of butter. Even having worked out at the gym for an hour yesterday evening (I'm reading Boris Akunin's The Death of Achilles), I couldn't justify more than a single spoonful. Give me Edy's Slow Churned any day, any time.

Doughnut tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

FS & WPH SNAFU?

I was not deemed sufficiently dazzling to be invited to interview in person for the Foreign Service, I learned via email yesterday afternoon.

Furthermore, nobody has emailed me as definitely available to be on my Washington Post Hunt team this Sunday. Anita claims she's no good at puzzles, Patricia is going to be out of town, another trivia team member is going--but with some friends from college--and the NPV is AWOL. I've been looking forward to the Hunt for months--maybe I can recruit the 20-year-old I'm "babysitting" (staying with while her parents are on vacation) this weekend, but she's almost terminally shy and I'm not optimistic about my persuasive skills right now. There's a $2000 first prize.