Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Bah Humbug

To my son Tommy,

I write this letter to you today to explain what can happen. I don't say it will happen. I don't say it should happen. I don't say it shouldn't happen either. Everyone deals with grief in their own unique and personal way.

The holiday season has hit me hard. I am a real "bah-humbug" and have not experienced any of the joys of the holiday season. I mope around and have little to no joie de vivre straight across the board. I am cranky. I am depressed. I am withdrawn. None of which is fair to your mother or you. Any glimpse of normalcy is a simple facade and consist of going through the motions. But I find that facade harder and harder to muster. And I am aware, which magnifies the previous symptoms by a factor of ten and the shame for my present being by a factor of one hundred.

I get asked constantly, "Are you ok?" and I want to scream "Hell No!" but I don't. I smile and nod and say okay. But in my heart it feels like everything is wrong. The state of the world and this jackass disgrace playing President doesn't help much either. Plus work is like sliding down a razor blade into a vat full of lemon juice. But honestly, I used to be able to handle most anything the world threw at me, and handle it in stride. I would throw on a Jimmy Buffett tune and find some comfort among my family and friends. Now, I escape into an online chess game hoping that figuring out a checkmate will occupy my mind enough to give it a reprieve from all the rest.

I have no bandwidth for anything anymore. My mind is constantly awash with grief of loved ones loss. And evidently this retreat from life is a coping mechanism. Combine that with my zombie like stare and my IDGAF attitude that has made me stop worrying about things like my diabetes or weight and such. Add on what seems to be an insurmountable amount of stress to overcome the simplest tasks. Not a good combination.

The other night at your St Agnes Christmas Pageant, what is supposed to be a joyous event,  I had tears in my eye thinking of how my dad missed his grandson's concert and every concert and graduation and such to follow. Your mom says, "He saw it." but lately I have my doubts, which is an odd role reversal for your dad who is usually more the devout believer and your mom who tends to gravitate to more cynical views. I told her, "Tough to see it from Liberty Rd and through six feet of dirt" referring to Holy Family Cemetery and his physical remains.

They say time heals all, and I suppose sooner or later I will deal better. I have been seeking therapy for just that. And like I said, I am aware and I want with the deepest part of my soul to cope better. So maybe a change will come. Or not. I sure hope so as I feel like I am spinning my wheels in the quicksand of despair.

Again I tell you this story not to justify or approve of what I am going through or how I am going through it. I tell you it because you may end up one day going through something similar, and perhaps knowing your father went through the same will lessen the shame. At least I pray that it will keep you grounded and allow you to work through it however you have to. Or you may not go through anything the way your old man has. I don't want you to feel guilty if you don't respond this way. You do you when the time comes. In fact I hope you respond much better than I do.

I usually say you get to choose how you respond to anything and everything in life. This might be the one rare occasion that disproves that point. Sometimes there are biological, chemical, emotional, and spiritual mixtures that just stop even the most self-aware people from doing and acting and responding in what they would deem an appropriate manner.  I want to take the high road, I want people to see what life has thrown at me and say, "He was always smiling." But grief came through my life like a plow through a mouse's house, which was not my plan, but to quote Robert Burns. "the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley, an' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,For promis'd joy!"...

"Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
Sincerely with love from your dad,

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Wage War

To my son Tommy,

Your Grandpa Leo used tell me stories about diving underwater. He would tell me that when deep under water, things could go terribly wrong. When things went terribly wrong, after the initial panic, there is a moment of resolve that this is it. This is the final act. A calm comes over you there alone and you think it best to give up and accept your fate. That is when you have to dig deep and find the will to survive. You find you must fight. You find you must wage a battle for your life. And how do you do that? You simply breath. Blow out a bubble, a simple air bubble, and follow it to the top.

Your grandpa knew I wasn't a diver, but he told the story anyway. He often talked in metaphor and parable, most of which I still have yet to decipher. But this story rings true when you think about it in terms of life.

Life will beat you up. You will feel like your drowning. You will feel all alone. You will feel like giving up. Hell, there will be moments when you actually join in in the form of a self destructive downward spiral. I should know. You think, "Nowhere to go but down, might as well not waste time getting there."

Fight. Resist. Fight back tooth and nail. Don't give up. Find a way. Wage war! Wage it everyday of your life and fight!

But choose your weapons wisely. Choose kindness; Choose love; Choose compassion; Choose laughter; Choose prayer. These are not the easy weapons to use. Getting mean, getting angry, getting tough, those seem like the most obvious and quickest ways to stop your descent. They work, but at a cost. They are not the bubble. They are not the weapons that are going to lead you up and truly save you.

You know what else Grandpa Leo said in that story. He said when you get to the top, when you get that one gasp of air, make it a big one because a wave may come right away and knock you back down again and you are going to have to do it all over again. And you must do it all over again, as many times as it takes.

As for your war that you wage, the weapons you chose the other day were a couple of couch pillows, and furry friend, and a framed picture of your Nana Jeanne. Not bad choices. A formidable defense indeed. As for me, I need to find my weapons again and use them wisely. For the time being, maybe I can use your fort. Because you my son, are most likely the bubble I need to follow.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Friday, September 8, 2017

Cheese Hide And Go Seek

To my son Tommy,

Despite my best efforts to protest, deny, avoid, and delay ... you now have a dog. Her name is Zoe (though I think the rescue spelled it Zoey) and she is a mixture of the Poodle and Maltese breeds. She is two years old and fully grown and about nine pounds right now. Your mom and you brought her home last Friday. What were we thinking?!?

For a week you  have had to take Benadryl almost every night. The hives seem to be only where Zoe licks you and truth be told seem to be lessening. You have been pretty good about taking her for walks so far, but as a father I have this sneaking suspicion that sooner or later that chore will fall to me more than it already has. You are learning quickly and doing pretty good with her training, though she obviously has had some previous experience and it is more her adjusting to our ways and/or us adjusting to her.

Daddy is still reserving his judgement and more dislikes the added challenges, cost, and responsibilities that dog ownership brings. Roro seems to like this dog and I think secretly she wishes the dog would come up with her and jump on her lap more. You are in love with this dog. The moment it is away from you, you call her name. The dog however, likes all of us, but loves your mommy. Zoe's first two years were spent with a lady and your mommy has easily assumed the role. And your mommy loves her and has even slightly begun spoiling this little bitch. And Zoe spoils your mommy right back by keeping her company at any hour of the day or night, usually laying right by her side.

Anyways, sometimes Zoe doesn't pay you as much attention. She doesn't necessarily come to you as much as she should and for awhile I was worried that you would get jealous of the mommy-Zoe bond. But ever the optimist, you have taken to a game of hide and seek, with cheese. You grab a string cheese and break off some and run and hide. If Zoe bothers to seek you out, or even just happens close to whichever room you ran off to, you jump out and giggle and tell her she found you and treat her with the cheese bite and run off again. If she doesn't mind you or find you or come to your calling, you wait a little, then go find her and giggle and claim yourself as the winner of that round and treat her and run off again. Really is no loser in your game with your dog.

And that, my son, is why I will try my best to put my grumblings about dog ownership away and just be happy for our family as Zoe finds her place among clan Downey.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Saturday, September 2, 2017

When You Have No More Words

To my son Tommy,

There comes a time in your life that you may find you no longer have any words. You will become overwhelmed, numbed beyond thought from yet another tragedy in such a short amount of time. I have reached this threshold with passing of your Great Grandmother Jeanne Kidwell Downey this August 22nd 2017. Unfortunately, the numb feeling in my mind has no effect on the tremendous grief and feeling of loss that consumes my body and has surpassed my muse. Nana Jeanne, may God rest your soul and accept you into His arms.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

P.S. Here is the link to the obituary and a copy below with one official correction that I noticed (married in 1945 not 1944)

The following text is copied verbatim from  except for the marriage year correction and a ordinal correction for your Great Grandpa Leo Jr.

Jeanne Kidwell Downey is the only child to Mr. Grover Courtney Kidwell and Pauline Stennet Kidwell-McGinnley.
Mom is preceded in death by her husband, Leo Thomas Downey Jr. of 513 Averitt Ave., Cumberland, who passed on March 4, 2015, in Randallstown. She is also preceded by her first-born son, Leo Thomas Downey III, who passed from brain cancer on March 31, 2017, after a successful career as an officer in the U.S. Army.
Mom is survived by her three remaining sons, Kevin Downey from Kansas, Sean Downey from Louisiana and Padraig (Paddy) Downey from New Mexico; and her grandchildren, Jennifer, Sean, William, Leo Thomas IV, Ryan, Chris, and Melissa as well as seven great-grandchildren, Madison, Alexandra, Liam, Tommy Leo, Dennis, Russel, and Ryan.
Mom was married in 1944 1945 to Leo when he returned from the European Theater of war and was on his way to be in the first wave of the invasion of Japan. Upon the end of the war, they moved to Wyoming for Dad to attend law school and began raising a family of four boys. Dad began work with the U.S. Air Force at Warrens AFB, Cheyenne, Wyn. and later transferred to Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico, where Mom and Dad lived from 1959 to 1973 and then moved to Torrejon, AFB, Spain, until 1975. Mom and Dad then moved to Ridgeley, W.Va., and eventually began working for the Social Services of West Virginia and living in Williamson, W.Va. Upon their retirement, they resided in Del Ray Beach, Fla., and cared for Pauline Stennet Kidwell-McGinnley until she passed. They then returned to Maryland and lived with their first-born son, Leo III. Jeanne was from the great generation, and she lived her life in the faith of God, love and sacrifice for her family and husband through very tough times for the nation and never quitting.
Mom had a great love of the Holy Spirit, and we know the Holy Spirit came to collect her soul on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. May God have mercy on her soul.
Published on August 28, 2017

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Birthday Lament

To my son Tommy,

Today I am usurping your usual letter to write to your Grandpa Leo. I need to tell him what is going on with us, with me. I hope you understand.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

To my dad Leo,

Today is the anniversary of your birth. It is funny that your birthday hit me so hard, knowing how much you disliked your birthday. You would have been sixty nine today. It has been about fifty nine days since you passed. God knows we all miss you dearly.

Your brothers and your in-laws were there for you and us at the end. Sure, most of the family who could came and spent an hour or two with you when you started hospice, but a few really stepped up.

Uncle Paddy had that extended time with us, shuttling you back and forth from Hopkins, helping with every little thing, and generally doing whatever it took. Not to be selfish, but I couldn't have survived your illness without him. Unfortunately he had to head back to New Mexico right near the end. He hoped and prayed for that miracle till the end.

Uncle Tim stepped up and came down from the mountains and helped in the last two weeks. I don't think Mom and I could get through the suppositories and the un-impactings and such without him. I have to admit that I had my reservations but he really was there for you and for us.

Uncle Kevin flew in when things got bad and Jeanne called to let the brothers know. He was the one who found you had passed on, during a 2 AM morphine dose on that Friday.

Aunt Cathy and Rob and Aunt Mo and Gary setup a wake for you. They did everything above and beyond. Mom at first was opposed to the idea. I think she was still in shock and confused about your wishes since you donated your body to science. Later she came around. I told her I needed this; we needed this. We spread out some picture books and met with family and friends. When we bury your ashes in the next month or so, we will just do the religious formalities and ceremonies of death since we already celebrated your life.

Speaking of religious ceremony, Father Raymond Harris was really there for you at the end as well. He probably came about ten times in your last month. He would always seem to make time which with his busy schedule as the pastor of Holy Family, it took effort. If he couldn't make it one day, he would show up the very next. If he is in town, he will probably have your service. I know you always enjoyed his counsel at Confession and his homilies at Mass.

Mom is getting by. She cries a lot. Rightfully so. She is lonely. I try to spend at least an hour every day upstairs but some days it is harder than others. Between work and wife and kid and your affairs, I am pretty busy. Tommy picks up my slack and spends a good hour up there with Roro most nights. Lately she has been restless at night. I hear her walking upstairs looking for things. A couple times when I checked on her though, she was sound asleep. She was covered in that weighted blanket you had us buy as gift from you to her. Covered, like a great big hug from you from the beyond. She and I lean on each other a little more, which is what we have to do but which is good as well.

As for your affairs, you did pretty good with that. I think Mom will be alright financially which I know was a great concern of yours and hers. Not that you (or anyone else) made things easy and we are still constantly trying to figure out this form and that paper and who do we call and how do we do this. Your financial planner forgot to put on a beneficiary on a couple stocks so we have to open a small estate. The prick blamed you. If Mom wasn't so loyal and forgiving, your money would be at T. Rowe Price right now. Of course you never liked that guy anyway but I can't convince Mom to move. Anyways, I can almost hear your chuckle as you put your hand on my shoulder and whisper "Patience, my son. It isn't important. It is only money" in my ear when we reach a new form or hurdle or bureaucratic snafu. We will muddle through. Just wanted you to know you did good for Mom.

Speaking of moms, your mom is still staying with us. I know, I know told your brothers that Jeanne should move in with one of them. But we will manage. She is pretty set in her ways and all settled here. We don't want to uproot her. I butt heads with her a bit, like recently with her opinion of our parish priest, but I believe that to be a generational flaw in her and I do my best to keep my mouth shut. I can handle her staying. Plus when Ro found out about the plan to move her, she put in her two cents and a little to my surprise was that she wanted Jeanne to stay! I think when you talked to your brothers, you were worried about the dynamic between the two. They have a new found camaraderie in their grief and sorrow and in their shared love for someone so dear. Still even with this bond, Jeanne is lonely too. Tommy spends a good amount of time with her as well. He wrote her a Mothers' day card an in it said he was sorry for the loss of her son. He is really an amazing son and grandson and great grandson and person. You'd be so proud of him, dad.

As for Cassie, she is a pillar of strength when it comes to us grieving your loss. Not that she doesn't grieve your loss, but she has a way about her when she talks of you that makes people smile. She has a comforting way about her when she holds me when I cry. Yet at the same time Cassie is having a rough time everywhere else. Her physical pain is tremendous and her coping mechanisms are stretched thin to say the least. The last MRI scan found some spots on her spine. We believe it to be her bone cancer spreading. God I hope we are wrong. But Cassie and I are bracing for the worst and hoping to be pleasantly surprised if we are wrong.

We were delayed in finding these spots because some misogynistic prick of a hip doctor tried to convince her that the pain was just mental and contrived. No, I didn't punch him. I was kind of in shock when he said it and missed my opportunity. I figured if I went back to physically harm this jerk, it would no longer be a defensible crime. So we might try for this guys medical license and hit him where it really hurts. Hell in this Trump era of politics, we might be able to send that guy back to Iran. I kid, I kid. Anyways, if you can relay a request or two for us and ask God to covet the minds and souls of the new team of doctors, that would be appreciated. We just met them at your old stomping grounds at Hopkins. Boy, did that bring back memories. After our first consult/meeting, we have decided they will assume all her care with regards to this hip/spine/leg/chondrosarcoma stuff. Still, no definitive answers without more tests. So we wait for pre-authorization from insurance. If the insurance company okays things, it will be Friday for the bone scan and May 31st for a more specific MRI and sometime in between for the blood tests. Otherwise, most days, she is laid up in bed and has to will herself out a of a depression and into the fight against the pain for anything and everything she does. We now have thrown in possible allergic reactions to the myriad of ailments she faces. Weird stuff like Advil or fast food chicken sandwiches. Whatever the cause she has been fighting hives all weekend and then some. Combined with the Crohn's and the bone cancer, Cassie is just convinced her body hates her.

Cancer has struck elsewhere in the family too. Your sister-in-law Debbie is dealing with lung cancer. She just started six weeks of chemo and radiation. I imagine Sean is beside himself. Luckily he has two great brothers who learned a bunch from you and from caring for you and your dad. I know they both will be there for him at a moments notice. And he only need say the word and I would go down as well. Not to mention Aunt Debbie's daughter looks to be really stepping up to help them. Sean sent you so many prayers and said so many rosaries during your illness, you can return the favor with a request for an intercession or two. Plus that would only set you up for two miracles attributed to you, so you wouldn't be up for sainthood. Because if they made you a Saint, then it is work work work. With just a couple of miracles, you could rest easy in your eternal retirement.

Tommy is still pretty sad that you died. He is coping well for an eight year old. Hell, he is probably coping well for a forty year old. We read a book called "The Next Place" every night. It talks about the mystery and paradoxes of what Heaven is, without ever using the word Heaven. I think his favorite part is
I'll never be alone. I'll be embraced By all the family and friends I've ever known. Although I might not see their faces, All our hearts will beat as one, And the circle of our spirits Will shine brighter than the sun.
The book has beautiful artwork and on that one page he picks out a heart for each of those who have passed on. The first time he did it, I cried like a baby. I think your heart is a medium sized one roughly at the 2:30 if the circle were a clock.

The book also explains that your body is not a part of who you are anymore. Which is a good thing, because your body, as little as a week ago, was probably on a cold metal table being looked at by some scientist or med student. We got a letter Thursday saying you were cremated and we can pick up your ashes. This State Anatomy Board crap, though a noble gesture, was a cluster**** to deal with. It took them and the hospice team three weeks to do all the proper stuff so you could get a death certificate. At least they didn't throw your ashes in some mass burial site. Now that Mom is going to pick up your ashes on Monday, we have to work out the funeral Mass and interment. After talking with your brothers, I think we will be shooting for July 15th to allow for more planning time for those who have to arrange for work off or travel or both. Either that or you will end up in Mom's potting soil. Don't worry, I'd only let her plant black eyed susans or perhaps a dandelion weed garden with you. Sorry, that dark Downey humor sometimes takes hold.

Anyways, I hope Tommy continues to be okay. He often says that he is afraid to lose his mommy and daddy now. And here soon we will have to talk to him about whatever they find with his mommy. I feel like this will be rough on him. Roro gave him a guardian angel medal for his first communion and said that you were now his guardian angel. He hasn't taken it off once. Every night, after the Guardian Angel prayer and the Michael the Archangel prayer, he says either "Grandpa Leo pray for us." or "Grandpa Leo protect us." Did I mention how good of a kid he is?

As for me, well I cry often. I usually cry when I am alone, though not because I am trying to hide my tears. That is just the way it works out. Everything feels overwhelming. I just keep trying to put one foot in front of the other and do first things first and hope everything works out. Some days are better than others and I just hope that those better days stop being so sparse.

 I drink a little more, but nothing extreme. Nothing to be worried about, except for maybe my blood sugar, I guess. Just a couple of drinks here and there to dull the pain I feel from the tears. I eat with no regard again too, which is not good for my weight or blood sugar. I need to start taking better care of myself, for my son. I just have a bit too many "fuck it"s in my head right now. Probably best to spend them on food rather than things more detrimental. So far I have resisted using too many "fuck it"s on smoking and even though I had a couple smokes at your wake, haven't returned to that vice.

I pray a little more, which is probably good for your soul. Of course when I start a prayer it is even odds if I will finish it by being angry with God or asking for your entrance into Heaven. Kind of feel like God is picking on me and the ones I love. I know it doesn't work like that but I don't really care for the logic and sense of it all. I think I just want to be mad because sometimes getting mad helps me get through.

I don't feel like I have many friends. A few here and there and far fewer that actually mean it. I probably pushed them away one way or another. Perhaps I just wasn't there for them because I was too busy with what was on my plate. Some friendships faded with the years, some were drama filled, some people petty, some fair-weathered, and some one-sided. Some showed their true colors and I just could not reconcile my moral compass to them and no longer had the energy to even try. I gave up on them and they probably had already given up on me way before that. Perhaps they would say I turned into a judgmental prick. Perhaps they are right. I am too old to care though. I can still look back in my mind and think of them and smile about the way it was. But you always said that, except for that rare person, in the end there is only family. I never believed you, swearing on so many of my friends loyalty and how our friendship would survive the ages, but now I believe you. I see the truth in it. I am thankful for those friends that continue in spite of that truism. I hug them a little tighter and hold them a little more dear in my heart.

Dad, I wanted to take this time and say I am sorry. In the end, the cancer was winning. Your physical limitations were no longer able to be bested by me because of my physical limitations. I couldn't get you to the potty, I couldn't get you to the table for dinner. I couldn't do those little things that you loved that I believe gave you the will to keep on. I couldn't keep you alive. I remember you, in a moment of clarity, with extended family around, looking up from that hospital bed in the living room to Cassie and asking, "Are these people here because I am dying?" Everyone told me I did what a son could do, but that is of little consolation. Throughout my life, you always seemed to be able to fix everything. I couldn't even come close. Please forgive me and I pray that what little I did do brought you some comfort in your last days.

Dad, I also want to tell you we will be alright. Despite it all, we will get through. Because of you, we will get through. You did a good job here on this earth. You were a great example of a great man. We miss you and it hurts horribly, but we will keep on. I hope what I do now, as I try to fill your shoes, will bring you happiness in your eternal days. Happy birthday dad and say hi to Baby Sal for us.

Sincerely with love from your son,

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


To my son Tommy,

The dead regard the living with a mix of pity and laughter as the living go about their "oh so important" tasks with such urgency and fervor. Your Grandpa Leo is in his next place laughing as I try to get an "oh so important" piece of paper that all those "oh so important" companies and "oh so important" government agencies need to do the "oh so important" job of handling the affairs of those who passed on to that next place. Between Gilchrist and the Maryland State Anatomy Board and Maryland Vital Statistics and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, I play a sad little slave to bureaucracy and frustration and building anger as I try to get a death certificate, just to go deal with the next line of companies and institutions of bureaucracy and their problems. Lord, give me patience. Lord, give those who don't do their jobs properly hemorrhoids. I kid, I kid. I  wish no one harm. I will just climb my mountain top, yelling of these minor injustices to whomever will listen, until I stop and calm myself and realize my own "oh so important" sense of justice may be hastening the time you will have to get that "oh so important" paper for me. If that time comes, I too will be laughing in that next place and giving you a 10% chance you receive my death certificate, 60% chance you receive the certificate of your Grandpa Leo, 30% chance you receive that of your Great Grandpa Leo. Aren't you glad I didn't name you Leo?

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Monday, April 3, 2017


To my son Tommy,

I put you to bed last night with an ad hoc prayer before our normal structured prayers . In it I mentioned the word grief. "Daddy, what's grief?" When I explained it to be a deep sorrow for something lost, you immediately added, "Oh so our special thing we lost is Grandpa Leo and we all feel sad and that is grief?" Basically. You are so smart.

I wish there were a way to shield you from grief, not that I would be doing you any favors if I were to do so. Life is filled with grief and sooner or later you are forced to learn to deal with this emotional cocktail. Still your mom and I kept you home from school today. Later in the night, after we put you to bed in your own bed, you got up to use the potty and then before heading back to bed, you came in to our room crying. You sobbed, "It is just not the same without Grandpa Leo." Your mom held you dearly in her arms and we all cried together. When we offered the reprieve from school for today you said, "Will I feel better Tuesday?" Oh sweet boy, no. We explained that this sadness might be with us from time to time for a very long time and might pop up at the most inopportune times. You weren't thrilled by this prospect. "Then I guess I should just go back to school because it won't do any good to miss." Of course, when you said this, we were already approaching if not passed the midnight hour and your mom and I had made up our minds that you should stay home.

I don't know how to explain that time won't necessarily heal this sorrow that you feel, but like I have said before, it will allow us to learn to live with this sorrow and many others in our heart as we once again allow ourselves to live with joy and happiness in that same heart. Like I mentioned yesterday, our hearts are incredible machines that can fit all these emotions and not even come close to capacity. Still the pain and sorrow and grief we feel now has just been poured into our hearts, and it may take some time to settle before we pour too much else on top.

Sincerely with love from your dad,