Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gut Check Kind Of Year

To my son Tommy,

It has been a tough year, one of those gut check type years. It has been one of those years that every day that passes, every step you take as you trod along the path of life, seems to bring an unending supply of struggle and weight for our weary bodies and souls. Unfortunately, I know that many of the happenings this year are purely foreshadowing for the next, a series unresolved foreboding cliffhangers. We had to take your Grandmom Roro to the ER today for Pete's sake. 2015 holds little promise of joyful resolution.

I was a bit selfish this year. I told you all about us and largely avoided or ignored the happenings in the greater world. I had trouble enough dealing with the loss of family and the failing health of others in our family. Thus, I didn't write to you about police shootings and riots and war and justice and race and religion and persecution and crime and other such things that are such important questions in this world. The world had a gut check type of year, too. I say that I didn't spend much time writing about these events in our times in order to shield you from the burden, but in fact I just couldn't tackle such issues when my concern and compassion remained focused on ours and ours alone. I didn't want to add a dresser and a piano on top of the couch we were already carrying.

So how do you take a year, filled with such hardships both personal and worldly, and resolve to carry on in the new year, knowing very well that there is more of the same to come? Well you do it just like we are bringing in the new year right now. Surrounded by family and friends and love. You look back not on the losses themselves, but how love helped you overcome. You look back not on the successes themselves, but how love helped you achieve. You look for those small seemingly insignificant gestures, a hug, a cuddle, a smile, a kind word, all of which are pure simple moments of love. You salvage all these reflections of love from the past year, you put them deep inside your heart as weapons to arm you for the upcoming year, you grab a glass of champagne (or whatever your choice for a cup of kindness), toast the years gone by, grab your loved ones, give them a great big hug and kiss, join hands with the one next to you in a sign of unity, and sing at the top of your lungs that battle cry that readies you for the fight ahead, "Should auld acquaintance be forgot..."

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Great Great Uncle John

To my son Tommy,

I don't think you have had the opportunity to meet your Great Great Uncle John yet. You would know him if you saw him, because he looks just like pretty much all us Downey men do or will, complete with white beard and funny hat. Not sure how hat choice has found a genetic mutation in the Downey genes, but judging by our own hat choice, we know it is there. Just to be certain, Uncle John is the one on the left of the picture above visiting his brother (your Great Grandpa Leo) on Christmas day, which happens to be your great grandpa's birthday as well. Our cousin Maria (Uncle John's daughter) brought him down from Gettysburg. She was snapping the picture so she wasn't in that one. And of course you recognize your Nana Jeanne.

Anyways, Uncle John went into the hospital last night with twinges of pain in his chest. Maria says he had a good and restful night once admitted, but it was better to be safe. He will undergo some stress tests and such but she thinks they will send him home today barring any surprising results. We will add him to our prayer list.

It is a funny thing about family. We don't see Uncle John and Maria often. They only live maybe forty minutes up the road from your grandparent's house but sometimes those forty minutes can seem like a three day trek, what with work and life and all the complications we fill it with. However neither the distance nor the time between visits means much when it comes to family. If they need our prayers, or our help, or just a shoulder to lean on, we will be there. It doesn't matter that our plate is full. There is always room for family.

Take, for example, dinner at the Downeys' this past month. One of my greatest memories of this year will be fitting a ton of Downeys around the dinner table. That table is supposed to hold six max. This Christmas season, we often fit ten. And if more would come, we would fit more, somehow. You see the love of family is one of those amazing things in the world that defies the laws of physics. Love can ignore time between visits, as if time didn't exist. It can travel faster than the speed of light, as it can instantly be felt a hundred miles away. And love can expand and expand by ten sizes or more, to cover everyone in a blanket of comfort and compassion.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Do You Know What I Know

To my son Tommy,

Here is this morning's conversation.

T: (as you hurriedly came down the stairs after just waking up) "I got to go potty!"
Me: "Well, go man, go! Why didn't you use the one upstairs?"
T: "Mommy is pottying up there. And if she is pottying up there, I will just go down here. Makes sense, right?"
Me: "Sure does."
T: (over the sound of a urine waterfall) "It is important to do things that make sense, right Daddy?"
Me: "I think so Tom." (I often call you Tom when we are having important somewhat mature philosophical conversations)
T: (after some pause and a shake) "You know I know everything daddy."
Me: "Is that right? I used to know everything when I was younger."
T: "Like when you were twenty nine?"
Me: "Yeah that might have been the last time I knew everything, but you know I think I started not knowing everything well before that age."
T: "Yeah I know. Makes sense. I know everything. You're forty right?"
Me: "Nice talking to you Tom." (which is all I could muster without telling you to shut it)

I am pretty sure I wasn't so confident of my knowledge and certainty at age five (going on six) but I am at least certain that knowing everything stops by the time you become a dad.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Block Head

To my son Tommy,

I declare today, the 21st of December, block head day, or more exactly silly box mask day. With the increase in online shopping, we have a plethora of cardboard boxes, mostly courtesy of Amazon. With some markers and crayons and scissors and knives and perhaps some pixel printing, we can have a creative prelude that truly sets a high bar for the upcoming day of festivities! Of course now you are off coloring your next box. But alas here comes the tears because you don't have a peach colored marker and you don't like your old man's suggestion of using orange marker or switching to crayons.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bah Who Needs Lyrics

To my son Tommy,

There is a couple things I have learned over the past couple days. One, the Christmas tree to a five year old is simply an interesting way to store and display all the figures to make it easier to pick which he would like to play with. Two, ornament breakage is inevitable. And three, not knowing the correct lyrics, or the proper key for that matter, will never stop you from getting your merry on! I know videos, barring some great technological advance, won't show when I print these letters out in a book for you, but I had to include them in this post. So if the videos are gone when you finally read this, which might be a embarrassment saving blessing, trust me when I say your caroling was unique and beautiful to a father's ears, and perhaps a father's ears only.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Making His List

To my son Tommy,

Even Sith Lords make lists, and check them twice. For what? Well that is unclear. It is either to send Christmas wishes, or to list potential recruits to your dark side. Either way, I am happy you are practicing your writing!

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Self Reflection

To my son Tommy,

Ask yourself, when you pray, do you pray knowing He can? Or do you pray if He can, and does, that you will believe? or believe more? What if He doesn't? Do you lose faith? Tough questions.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How Close

To my son Tommy,

Not everyone knows how close they are to breaking on any particular day. I know. Two inches. That is how close I am to breaking at any time.

Two inches, the distance between your eye and the corner of the coffee table as you fell. Two inches was the distance between another emergency room visit, even though your mother told you to calm down and stop running around like a madman. As you fell, I didn't see you stop, even though you did. I flashed this picture through my mind of your head still going forward and the corner getting you right in the eye and me rushing you to the hospital.

I suppose I should have celebrated what did not occur. You were already picking yourself up saying you were okay. I should have been overjoyed that you were not hurt. But for some reason, the fear of what could have been came rushing from my gut. At the moment I responded, I was living in some alternate reality that would never exist. As adults sometimes do when they don't know how to deal with all this sudden emotion, sudden mix of emotions, sudden burst of fear, I yelled.

I was angry that you didn't listen to your mother. I was angry that you came so close to hurting yourself. So I yelled loud. With precise military execution I attempted to make sure you would never make that mistake again in a loud booming scary voice. This technique had worked a couple times on me when I was young, so it seemed appropriate.

The problem is, behind this yell was a couple months of an emotional rollercoaster. Behind this yell was a ton of raw emotion and fear that I hadn't had time to process or deal with yet. It was a two inch drop that made an emotional dam break and the flood started coming out. It was quick and to the point but it was scary to you, to your mom, and to me. Here I was lashing out at the ones I love the most. It scared me. So I got the hell out of the house.

Your mother spent the next hour or two trying to calm your tears. She explained that you weren't the reason I left. She was right. I left because I didn't want you to see my tears, my emotion, my anger, my confusion. I needed to be alone to gather myself so I could get back to being that father and husband that I was supposed to be.

It is funny what I think I am supposed to be. I am supposed to be a good son, and good father, and good grandson, and good husband, and I have high standards for what each of those terms mean. My image of how to be good at each of these jobs sure as heck doesn't include cracking under pressure. I should be Atlas and never shrug. So I brush things off. I keep things in. I go it alone far too often. But here we were. Going it alone and being such a "pillar of strength" didn't help clear the tears in my eyes as I drove, nor help console a five year old who thought his daddy left because he was mad at him.

I am angry at a bunch of things in this world. I am angry at life. I am angry at death. I am angry at brain cancer. I am angry at crohns. I am angry at MS. I am angry at myself for being angry. But I am not angry with you.

I fill these blogs with such "profound" thinking of how things are and how I believe they should be and how I believe I should be reacting to things. Some times that doesn't give a clear picture of how things really are, the ugly human side of life, filled with fear and confusion and anger. I don't tell you about the side I always struggle to overcome with God's help. On occasion, I fail. Then, evidently, I lash out at my son and my wife, those closest to me. The only thing left for me to do is beg for forgiveness and understanding and love.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why Am I Awake?

Toy son Tommy,

Your mom is upstairs sawing some zees. And you, the boy who said he wasn't tired, has figured out how to sleep near vertically. The only thing I ask, for future reference, is to be told when Downey family nap time begins. Feeling left out.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Day In The Life

To my son Tommy,

I thought today you can follow a day in my life. The plan for the day is to bring your Grandpa Leo to hospital to map his brain for the radiation treatment. Along the way I have to do the normal things. Will piece together a day from voice memos, and notes, and quick blog edits.

Pre 5:15 AM Haven't slept much. Tossing and turning all night with things on my mind. Nothing specific, just everything.

5:15 AM Alarm goes off for your mom. She has to get ready for clinicals. I try to roll over and go back to bed.

5:45 AM Vaguely remember instructions from your mom. I am sure it has to do with your medicine. I will figure it out. I mumble acknowledgement. Just need a couple more minutes of sleep.

6:15 AM The front door opens and your mom heads out to clinicals. Time to get fifteen minutes.

6:27 AM I can't count to fifteen evidently. Shower time. I look in the mirror and realize the goatee is threatening to morph into a full beard. I shave the cheeks to define the hair on my chin and lip. Movember is over so I should shave the whole thing but I just don't have time. I jump in the hottest shower my body can stand. I realize I might have asbestos for skin.

6:35 AM Man this shower feels good. Hey, did I fall asleep in the water? I am not getting out yet. I use the solitude to pray as I multi task by stretching as the hot water relaxes me.

6:45 AM Out of the shower and halfway dressed. My jeans are downstairs and, against your mom's suggestion, I am going to where the same pair. They have everything in the pockets already, even if they could probably walk on their own. I go to wake you up.

6:47 AM After agreeing to give you a couple minutes more sleeping (like father, like son) I go down to make you breakfast. Oatmeal with apple sauce here I come. Oh yeah, something about medicine too. Let me pull on my big boy jeans and get going.

6:55 AM I place your breakfast on your table and put on public television. The end of Arthur is on. I call for you to come down. Surprisingly, you wake up and come. You really are an easy kid to deal with. At the bottom of the steps you say, "It is too early!" and I mentally add "for this crap" on the end of your phrase and chuckle. I get you a blanket to wear while you eat and give you an oral syringe of amoxicillin. It shudders you and you inform me that tomorrow is the last day for this stuff. I go to make your lunch and you start eating and searching for your Elf on the Shelf who is riding Clifford the Big Red dog near the television.

7:01 AM Lunch is made and you found your elf. I lament not doing something creative with your lunch but am just happy to have everything running on time. I check your folder for school and it looks like Mommy has everything in order. She is great! I convince you that you should wait till Mommy is with us tonight to open your next day on your Lego Star Wars Advent calendar. As you eat, I get a break to write some of this down.

7:20 AM Breakfast is done and time to get dressed. Your mom has your outfit laid out. She really sets me up to succeed! Small intermission when your pajama pants come off. The cold air affects me the same way. I use the break to grab some missing socks. When we both get back, we go for the dressing record and come up short with a long 37 seconds. Time for teeth brushing and vitamin. Afterwards, you notice Chippy has a note for you.

7:33 AM Wild Kratts is on the boob tube. Grooming done. Vitamin taken. Elf note read. I check my ipad. Only a dozen work emails. They can wait. Cuddle time! Your mom does cuddle time first thing in the morning, but I wait till everything is done and then cuddle. Moms and dads do things differently. Each way has advantages and no one way is better than the other. It is just what works for me.

7:49 AM Time to head out for school. Again I convince you to wait for the advent calendar, as we break away from our cuddling. We grab your minion backpack, make sure the lights and television are off, set the alarm, and out we go. All and all, a smooth morning. Thank God for small blessings.

7:57 AM Picked up the Baltimore Sun as we left the house. Must be a free subscription trying to entice me back. Frankly the only reason I cancelled it was because they throw it in your mom's flower bed, which they did again. Oh well, something to read later today. Got you to school and through the drop off line. Bit later than normal, but local traffic made it tough to make a left turn off of Rock Glen. Off to fill up gas as the low fuel level just came on in the truck.

8:08 AM All fueled up. Hope this doesn't make me late for picking up your Grandpa Leo. I am taking him down to Johns Hopkins to get mapped for his upcoming radiation treatment. Appointment is not till ten but your grandpa wanted to get an early start. Caught a glimpse of my reflection in one of the truck's windows as I fueled up. When did I get this fat, old, and ugly?

8:12 AM Beltway looks backed up so taking the back way to your Grandpa. This might add a few minutes so I might have to go a bit faster than normal for those windy back roads. Feeling anxious so I use the time to say a decade of the Rosary as I drive.

8:31 AM Didn't make bad time. Got a minute or two to say hi to your Great Uncle Paddy who is in from New Mexico. But not much time to waste. Off we go.

9:49 AM Well traffic was less than stellar this morning. An hour plus to get down to Hopkins and parked and shuttled around to where we are supposed to be. I didn't mind as I got to have an hour long conversation with your Grandpa on just about everything. I love talking to him. Of course now the waiting game begins and we both sit here in quiet pensive contemplation while we both distract ourselves with our iPads. He is playing solitaire and I am catching up on this daily journal blog.

11:01 AM They started the CT scan on your Grandpa. Put some type of pliable self molding mask on him beforehand, I assume they don't have to write with marker directly on his to mp the radiation spot or spots. They had to strap him (at his bequest) so, in case he falls asleep, his arms woudn't fall off the i-beam they use for the scanning table. Taking the time to ask St. Peregrine (and a couple family members that I am sure are up in Heaven as well) to pray for your grandpa. Never realized how much I do actually pray during the day.

11:25 AM CT scan done and MRI starting. Really is interesting seeing the science working, seeing the magnet take magnetic slices of his head. Of course the circumstances of getting an MRI almost always take away from the neatness factor and don't allow you to enjoy the science. Settling into the Baltimore Sun now and it looks like former Governor Erhlich is now having presidential aspirations. If he does, that will be the third from Maryland to throw his hat into the ring, joint Governor O'Malley and Dr. Ben Carson. I think these guys need to start surrounding themselves with real people as advisors, to tell them how it really is and humble them a bit, because they all seem to believe their own hype. Guess that is Maryland politics. I miss Willy Don. Maybe the lifestyle section will have something of more importance. Or I could answer some of the twenty work emails piling up. Probably do both as this is the long scan.

12:15 PM MRI done and heading home. Only thing I found in the paper worth the ink was an eggnog sugar cookie recipe, but alas I don't need that. Also was a review of a blended red wine, but since it didn't come in a box and was around twenty bucks,mthatnwould be splurging for us. They played Bach for your Grandpa Leo in the MRI, which he enjoyed, what he could hear of it through the clank clank of the machine. Hope traffic is smooth. Is there a patron saint of roads and highways?

12:57 PM Just got to Grandpa Leo's house. Talked to your grandparents about upcoming doctor appointments. Your grandmom Roro has a doc appt Monday and Tuesday of next week that we have covered and then on Dec 22nd goes into Sinai for some observation for possible seizures or pschizophrenia episodes. Your Grandpa Leo starts radiation on the 15th and I assume starts with chemo then too, but we haven't got the prescription for that yet. Got some calls to make I guess. Funny how the todo list always remains and always gets longer even if you are dealing with cancer.

2:26 PM Reported all the details of today's visit and caught up with your great uncle. Also visited with your great grandparents. Ran out and picked up chinese for your grandma. Your grandparents generously offered to make sure that ambulance bill was covered. Just heading out. Now to decide to head into work or work from home tonight. I think I might surprise you and pick you up from school and then work from home. Got my hands free on the phone and am calling into the office now. Wonder if I will make it in time for dismissal?

2:55 PM Made it in time for dismissal, but I must say Maryland drivers are horrible. Though I went to confession last night, after this drive on this wet day with Maryland drivers, I am pretty sure I may need to go again! Your Bwama pulled up right as I did. Unfortunately, since I was there to get you, and your cousin Ryan had STEM, she didn't have anyone to pick up till later.

3:10 PM After the normal pleasantries that you go through at dismissal, which evidently are extensive as you must say goodbye to each and every person on a personal level. We made it home. I gave you about 15 minutes on ipad and then homework started.

3:46 PM Your mom got out of clinicals early. When she came in you were working on your first page of homework. I started to discuss some chores and stuff like that. In the process I put down your folder with the second page of homework. Big mistake.

4:20 PM After frantically searching for this folder, and getting more and more angry with myself for misplacing it, and more and more bewildered as to where it could be, we found the second page of homework. I get myself all worked up and then I get myself all upset because I should clean more and it really snowballs from there. I shouldn't allow that to happen. Your mom just kept chuckling and trying to cheer me up as I searched/cleaned/pouted/grumped around. Your mom is a saint for putting up with me. Anyways, second page of homework done.

4:30 PM After finishing your homework, your mom and you have found the perfect cuddle place on the couch and are watching a Toy Story That Time Forgot, which is a Christmas special I recorded last night from ABC. Jealousy abounds in your old man! Maybe I can channel that into work, so I log on to the company computers.

4:50 PM Perhaps the most perfect part of my day, I take a quick break from work, and we decide to do the advent calendar. Again I end up with extra pieces, but I am okay with that now. We discovered that the instructions for each piece/day is actually on the back of the door that was just opened. Before getting back to work, going to start some water boiling because I am sure you want either pasta or mac and cheese for dinner.

5:15 PM You are eating some mac and cheese I heated up, and your mom is actually boiling the water for the next batch because you are going to want more. Before you would eat, you complained about belly pain. When you didn't take my "go poop" advice, I had to do a whole production. After listening to your belly, making you bend down and bend up, and pushing on your belly, I declared you cured and you went to eating your mac and cheese. A little showmanship is an excellent placebo. Your mom is dead tired and I am not sure how this amazing woman is still going, even though I did catch her cat napping on the couch. Do you think wine with working from home is okay?

6:05 PM Dinner time for daddy. You had yours and your mom found some left over turkey pot pie. I am settling into some leftover pasta. I decided against wine earlier but grabbed a beer to wash down dinner. Just one, to take the edge off.

6:50 PM Bedtime! You have taken your medicine, sang our bedtime songs, changed into pajamas, said are nightly prayers, and are all tucked in. Your mom is headed up too. I got a bunch of work to do so I am going to try get some of it done tonight before I crash, so I am going to sign off from this letter.

What is the point of this journal for today? I have no clue. It was just another day, a busy day, perhaps a boring day, but just another day. Though the challenges kept creeping in, work, traffic, scheduling, etc., nearly every moment of this day was filled with family and prayers and love.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Show Off

To my son Tommy,

So it is day two of your Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar. You did this one all on your own. No extra pieces like your old man ended up with yesterday. The force must be strong with you. Show off.

On a side note, word has it that your Uncle Paddy has touched down in Baltimore is en route to your grandparents' house. We will catch up with him later in the week. Tomorrow you head back to school because your fever broke last night around 11pm. After I drop you off to school, I head out to take your Grandpa Leo to get mapped for his upcoming brain radiation therapy. Fun times.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Monday, December 1, 2014

Irish Pragmatist

To my son Tommy,

Wow. What a day! And not necessarily in a good way, but nothing catastrophic... just work.

First off a quick medical update. I was very thankful over the extended holiday weekend that no one was in the hospital. There was some that threatened hospital visits but ended up taking lesser methods.

Your Bwama had a sinus infection that caused her to go to one of those urgent care facilities on Thanksgiving itself. Your PopPop had a-fib while carving the turkey at our house but it is evidently much less of a case and he came out of it on his own and it isn't as debilitating or scary and it is to be expected for up to three months after his surgery. In fact he was in more danger from your mom when he took the beautiful crispy skin off the bird before carving because FoxNews told him so.

Your Grandpa Leo started having some pain and headaches and thought to himself, "Oh my here it comes" but then remembered a prescribed pill (which he calls his dumb pill because the way it makes him feel immediately after taking it) he forgotten to take and that made things better. Your Grandma Roro had a small scene where she was sure she left her purse in church, even though it was Saturday and they hadn't gone to church and her purse was in the other room.

Your great grandfather had some problems with his catheter, dried blood in the tube, but the hospice care came and changed that out so he didn't have to visit the hospital. Your Nana Jeanne is not feeling too hot but for the most part is just coping.

Your mom has a sinus infection and had a doctor's visit to get that cleared up. You, yourself, threatened some doctor visits on Friday and Saturday but it wasn't until last night that you got a fever and thus we took you today.

All things considered though, for the range of ailments we have in this ragtag group of invalids we call a family, it was a good weekend. It is an entirely different perspective when you can list everything that went wrong and be thankful it wasn't worse!

Then the weekend ended and I got to work. Slammed! Lots of fires to put out and issues to address and correct. I didn't stop working all day and am doing more work tonight. Blogging is just a small break. Well, blogging and working on your Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar piece, which mind you doesn't come with instructions and somehow I ended up with two extra pieces on the first box which has me confounded as you can see by the picture. But I digress. I guess this type of workday is par for the course after a long holiday weekend. Yet all and all, it is just work and it pays (most of) the bills.

There will be days like this, days that you are slammed and worked to the bone and just want to scream into your pillow as you fade off to sleep. You have good days and bad and you will hardly know which are which while they are happening. But you can actually choose. You can choose to make it a good day. Because it is how you react, your contribution, your perspective, your perception, of the events that frame reality.

Just like our family can have all these medical things happen over four or five days, and I still consider it a good can choose to not let whatever challenge your face to bring you woe and misery. I am not advocating for rose colored glasses here, as I accept every event in life with a healthy dose of pragmatism, but just because something sucks, doesn't mean it can't be worse and doesn't mean it won't get better. So when these days come, roll up your sleeves. Get to work. Make things better rather than wallowing in despair. And just maybe tomorrow will be a better day. Of course, as a true Irish pragmatist (aka Grandpa Leo) once told his son, if all else fails there is always whisky! I kid, I kid. Well sort of. The whisky might help me with these extra Lego pieces!

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Just Another Day

To my son Tommy,

There are things to concern yourself in this world, and there are things that you should not fret over. I often wonder if God is trying hard to drive home this lesson to me. It seems He is giving me ample opportunity to practice choosing which things are of import.

For example, this morning I walked out to my company truck and noticed the driver side mirror was destroyed. I imagine some bus or delivery truck or big truck came up our street and popped it. No one stopped, no one knocked, that doesn't happen (or at least not often) in today's day and age. Perhaps in my youth, I would have been in a "woe is me" mode and asking why do things keep piling up on me. Not today. No one hurt. It is just a mirror. Plus the driver who didn't stop gets seven years bad luck for breaking a mirror, right? Not important to worry about.

Now a 104.7 degree fever, that is something to concern yourself with. That is the temperature your godmother had. Turns out, even though she got the flu shot, she has the flu. She had to go to the hospital for a bit but is back home and doing better. Just another chapter added to the medical woes of those in our extended family. Brain cancer, atrial fibulation, diverticulitis, crohn's, MS, diabetes, breast cancer, hospice, chemo, radiation, fevers, flus, etc...these type of things are important especially when we are talking family.

Money, turns out not as important as you would think. We came home to a $600+ ambulance bill from the city. This was for the night two weeks ago when you couldn't breath and we called 911. Your mother summed it up nicely with the comment, "It will get paid when we can pay it." The important thing is you got over your croup and can breath and didn't die.

Now weather on the other hand is worth some concern as well. Not really weather, but how it affects you and your loved ones. It just moved from rain to snow up here and now I will be driving home without a side mirror. Double jeopardy. I better sum this up.

Health and welfare and lives and love are the important things to worry about. Money and things and annoying little everyday problems, not so much. Sure you have to deal with them and sure they can be quite challenging and frustrating and downright scary, but they aren't as important as you think. Choose wisely what weight you lay upon your shoulders, otherwise you will look back in shame that you ever let such minor details burden you and distract you from what is truly important.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Things You See

To my son Tommy,

Your great grandfather was triple dosed up on pain killers the other day. Since he has been moved from home health care to home hospice, he was prescribed painkillers. He usually gets half a pill but no more than one whole pill a day.

Unfortunately, your great grandmother is also on the same painkillers and her prescription is for two pills a day. So when she administered the painkillers to your Great Grandpa Leo, she got confused and gave him two pills like she takes. That wouldn't have been so bad, except that in the afternoon feeding, your uncle, not knowing of the earlier dose, gave him another pill. They called the hospice people and were told that there was nothing to do except wait for your great grandfather to come down from the high.

When we came over last night for dinner at the Downey's house, I wondered why your great grandfather had his eyes wide open from his hospital bed. Then I found out the story and it all made sense. I pictured your great grandpa having the same reaction as the cat in the above picture.

The rest of the night was fairly uneventful. Your Great Aunt Mo and Mr Gary came over for dinner. You love having a new audience for everything and kept us laughing with your little declarations. At one point you declared to the group that when you grow up and become a priest, you will be known as Father Thomas. You hit us with a couple other zingers too as the night continued.

You have taken an extreme interest in how remote controls work and have become a remote control hog. You landed on this telethon like thing with all these old concerts and the one was a Bee Gee concert. You brought in your Great Aunt Mo into the living room to listen and you and her danced and sung to "How Deep Is Your Love" and finished with a rousing dance to "Stayin' Alive"

Of course this morning at church that whole disco thing came back to haunt me. You excitedly tug on my shirt and whisper, "Dad, I see a Bee Gee." I didn't have the energy to find out what you really were looking at, whether it was another parishioner, a saint, or a depiction of Christ. I will tell you, if you really have any aspirations of being Father Thomas, you might have to learn to distinguish between Jesus of Nazareth and Barry Gibb.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Friday, November 21, 2014


To my son Tommy,

The official prognosis for your Grandpa Leo is 14.6 months with treatment. For the stage four cancer that he has (called glioblastoma multiforme or GBM) that is the median survival rate. Median means half of them do better than that rate and half of them do worse. They said your Grandpa Leo has a special enzyme that is most commonly found in long term survivors of GBM and that could push his personal prognosis out to three or even five years.

You might think this information would change everything. It doesn't really. Sure your grandfather will have to undergo radiation and chemo starting around the middle of December with scans to watch for tumor growth, but that is just an extra chore and he is looking forward to his daily trips to Johns Hopkins using the subway. Sure your grandfather will get tired from the treatments, but he already really enjoys naps and this will give him an excuse to take a couple more every day. Sure your Grandpa Leo knows what will most likely be the cause of his death, but that doesn't change much either because he always was aware he was going to die someday as that is part of the terminal illness called life. And, he still doesn't really know when things will happen as he (like Han Solo in the quote above) often defies all odds.

But the day to day for your Grandfather won't change much. He will still care for your great grandpa and great grandma as a dutiful son does. He will still suffer and complain (with love) about long shopping trips and crazy ass requests as a dedicated husband does. He will still be a wonderful father who constantly teaches his son through words and examples, no matter how old his son is, the importance of living a life worth living and how to vanquish the fear of death. He will still be a great father-in-law who always wanted a daughter as well and is enjoying still learning what having a great daughter is all about. He will still be a loving grandfather who no doubt will be a cohort in crime for some mischief and bonding with his grandson, who he will watch turn 6 and 7 and, God willing, 8 and 9 and 10 or more. Just like before, every joke he says will be corny, every prayer he prays will be heartfelt and most likely for others, every hug he gives will be sincere, and every moment of his life will be as precious as every moment that has passed, good times and bad equally. So though all our lives have a new wrinkle added, things really aren't much different than before. So let's just keep on keeping on and loving every moment.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Old Motto, New Perspective

To my son Tommy,

I am sitting with your Great Grandpa Leo making sure someone is here to watch him. Your Grandma Roro is in the other room and I guess by me being here I am kind of looking out for both of them. Your Nana Jeanne is in the hospital for her diverticulitis and your Grandpa Leo is at doctor appointments all day. Your Great Aunt Mo went with him for a second pair of ears. I am very anxious to hear what they are going to be told.

To while away the hours, I have been thinking of recent conversations I had with your Grandpa Leo. The other day, your grandpa put his car into the service center. He told them to give it a once over and fix everything. He asked me to drive him over to pick up the car. He was dreading the auto service bill, saying how it was probably going to be big mistake to give the car dealership service section basically a blank check. 

I looked at him and laughed and said, "Dad, right now you are or should be living by the motto, 'Life is short. Make mistakes.' You know what I mean?"

He laughed a tremendous belly laugh, "Do you think I should have a t-shirt made?"

It felt good to make your grandpa laugh. I could use a laugh right now waiting for the doctors' best guess to how short life can be.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


To my son Tommy,

"Nice haircut," your PopPop quipped to you and me, admiring our freshly buzzed hairdos courtesy of your mother and the house clippers. "I got mine cut to," he continued, adding as he looked at me with a grin and a wink, "That way I will look nice in the box if I croak on this surgery." I laughed. Not sure what it is about both your grandfathers, as they both have this twisted sense of humor when it comes to death. I suppose it is a generation thing, or perhaps a military thing. It makes your mother uncomfortable, and probably your grandmothers too. Come to think of it, that might be why your grandfathers make those kinds of jokes.

Not sure what it says about me that I inherited this morbid sense of comedy and that I chuckle or downright belly laugh at most of their jokes as I join in. I replied, "Well, you will look nice. And if you do croak, I will try to bundle for a group rate at the funeral home with all my family members." He laughed back.

Thank goodness PopPop can sport his new haircut from outside the pine box. He had a little bit of a complication with the incision area after the surgery, but the word on the street is the surgery went smoothly. He had to stay the night at the hospital, but is home now.

I have learned through your Grandpa Leo and PopPop's surgery, that at Johns Hopkins hospital at least, when they move you from the surgery waiting room to the waiting room to be brought back to recovery, that they won't come get you. For your Grandpa Leo, your mom and I waited about an hour or two before forcing our way back to his recovery room. I think your mom and Bwama waited about three hours before forcing their way back to PopPop's recovery room. Lesson learned. when it comes to recovery rooms, don't settle for the waiting game.

As for the rest of the potential funeral home group rate candidates, there isn't much new. Your Great Grandpa Leo has moved from a home care to hospice designation but not much has changed. Your Nana Jeanne went to the doctors today for diverticulitis pain and is going to a doctor to get the biopsy results tomorrow with your mom. Your Grandpa Leo goes to two oncologists tomorrow with your Great Aunt Mo there for an extra set of ears. Your Grandpa Leo recently thought he might have the shingles on top of everything else but the urgent care docs say it is a spider bite or ant bites, which draws into question if your Grandmom Roro actually has shingles as well on top of everything else she constantly deals with.

The rest of the group (those of us in less critical condition that have a good chance of avoiding the discount rate at the funeral parlor) has plenty going on as well. Coughs, and colds, and crohn's flairs, and that is just the stuff that starts with "C". So when the going gets tough, you and I get haircuts.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Monday, November 17, 2014


To my son Tommy,

Occasionally, I have no words that can reach you. No matter how hard I try, I cannot correct one of your misconceptions. The hardest part of an exchange like this is coming to grips that your logic may even win me over. Such is the case with baptism vs bath-tism. Your argument was "Do you see any baps in that picture?" Well no, no I don't. You win. Now watch daddy have a wine-tism with this black box of merlot.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Death Star

To my son Tommy,

The Death Star has been in many of our conversations lately. You have been watching the Star Wars movies and you decided to ask Santa for the Lego Death Star, the approximately four hundred dollar Lego Death Star. We decided we can ask Santa but there are definitely no promises as Santa has a budget and we don't want to bankrupt Santa so he can't buy important things for others.

Last week at your grandparent's house you found, right before we were leaving, a package of balloons for making balloon animals. Your mom and I were a bit peeved at the timing of the discovery, and said maybe next week we can open them. You weren't happy until your Grandpa Leo suggested that the next week (aka last night) you and he would make a Death Star out of the balloons. It appeased you at the time, so I let it ride, but I wondered how the hell we would pull that off.

You spent the entire week planning and looking forward to this balloon Death Star. Your Grandpa Leo thought about it too and bought some rubber bands to try and help the construction. But after blowing up the first balloon and realizing he couldn't even tie them off with his current hand function, you both looked at me. Sure. Right. I can do this. I once made a balloon dog and a balloon sword, so I am an expert right?

I made the first one, and I thought it was pretty good. Even your mom was impressed with my little globe. You and your grandpa thought it was small, but good for the first test reenactment.

"Reenactment? What reenactment?" I thought to myself. The next thing I know, before I even had a chance to picture my good work, there you and your grandpa are with safety goggles and two sharp forked barbecue tools that you guys called your light saber forks and singing the theme song from the movies. I barely had enough time to plug my ears before you guys re enacted the blowing up of the Death Star. You were both proud of the results and demanded I use every balloon remaining to make the next one for the grand finale.

Not sure if it was because I had to use all of the balloons, or if it was because I knew of its ultimate fate, but the next version (pictured) wasn't as good. It didn't even capture or hold the spherical look that well and looked like the Emperor hired Darth Escher to make the second reincarnation. But it was good enough for the imagination of a five year old and the somewhat twisted sense of humor and entertainment value of a sixty six year old. May the force be with you.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Game You Want To Lose

To my son Tommy,

Your Grandpa Leo recently was touting the simple pleasures of life. This morning was the first time he could wash his head since the brain surgery. He said it felt amazing and went on and on about how he missed it so. He was gentle and timid at the washing, but even the little he did brought him such great enjoyment. But not all of his pleasures are as simple and innocent.

Your Grandpa Leo has a couple life insurance policies. One is a whole life with the Knights of Columbus and one is a term life with the military that lasts to age seventy five. He recently, before all this started to happen, considered cancelling the term life policy. Of course now he isn't cancelling it. He looked at me the other day and said, "I feel like calling up these insurance companies and saying 'YOU LOSE #$%^ers!'" I was a bit stunned at first and there was nothing I could say or do but join in his crazy laughter. It is a perverse pleasure as you stare at death's door to know that you "won" at the life insurance game. Definitely not politically correct humor but no one ever accused the Downeys of being very PC. We will take the laughs where we can, especially right now, thank you very much.

Here is hoping that your grandad turns out to be wrong and he lives another nine plus years and ends up "losing" the life insurance game. Here is hoping that all our friends and family end up "losing" this game the right way (through longevity) as well. And finally, here is hoping that all of us can learn to laugh in the face of death the way your Grandpa Leo can.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Special Ride

To my son Tommy,

Well, at least you got a fun ride in the ambulance. When your soon to be a nurse mother decides to call 911, even I panic. Turns out you had croup which caused you to not be able to breath while you had that coughing fit. Fun times!

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Short Update

To my son Tommy,

I don't think I have the strength for a long post with my usual attempts at wit. So here is a quick hit. Still know nothing more about your grandpa than we did yesterday. Nana Jeanne had a mammogram that even made the secretary go "Whoa" and informed your mom that when it comes back cancer officially, just set her up with hospice. Your Great Grandpa Leo seems to have lost function of his one hand and had to have an in home X-ray to make sure it didn't break during the last ambulance ride. Your Grandma Roro has shingles on top of the over abundant other problems she is having. You had a doctor appointment today and have a 101 degree fever and have to stay home from school tomorrow at least. You will spend the day at your Bwama's house because your mother has a twelve hour clinicals day tomorrow and she is worried that I would be missing too much work if I stay home to care for you. And the beat goes on, and the beat goes on.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Monday, November 10, 2014

There's A Saint For That

To my son Tommy,

There was an old joke about smart phones and tablets. It seemed that no matter what you wanted to do in life, there's an app for that. Need to track calories, there's an app for that. Need to count steps, there's an app for that. Need to learn how to potty train a snail, probably an app for that too.

Well something similar could be said about the Catholic religion, there's a Saint for that. Need to find something lost, there's a Saint for that. Find yourself losing patience, there's a Saint for that. Find out your father/grandfather/husband/brother (or whatever your Grandpa Leo is to all these people who love him) has an aggressive form of brain cancer, there's a Saint for that too.
O great St. Peregrine, you have been called "The Mighty," "The Wonder-Worker," because of the numerous miracles which you have obtained from God for those who have had recourse to you.
For so many years you bore in your own flesh this cancerous disease that destroys the very fibre of our being, and who had recourse to the source of all grace when the power of man could do no more. You were favoured with the vision of Jesus coming down from His Cross to heal your affliction. Ask of God and Our Lady, the cure of the sick whom we entrust to you. Especially Leo Thomas Downey III and all who invoke your aid.
Aided in this way by your powerful intercession, we shall sing to God, now and for all eternity, a song of gratitude for His great goodness and mercy.
I wish I could tell you more specifics at this time, but a scheduling snafu had me leave your Grandpa Leo before he went in to see his surgeon. The surgeon had got called back into the operating room and was about two hours late. I thought to myself, if you are going to be late, saving a life or lives in surgery sure is a good excuse. Anyways, I was worried about time and worried about picking you up from school so your grandpa said for me to go. By the time I got the parking (pre)paid and was almost out of the garage, your mom called and said she will make sure you are picked up and to go back with your Grandpa Leo. By the time I got back to your grandpa, the visit was over and he was headed towards the subway in the hospital to make it easier for me to pick him up and get him home. Well, the good thing was I could drive him home and we stopped by to see you let out of school. The bad news is your Grandpa Leo isn't the best at getting all the details told to him, so we got half the story at best. All I got was that it was an aggressive form of cancer (no name) that is specific to the brain (which means it didn't come from somewhere else in the body) and that they were going to go "full court press" on dealing with it, and that he can drive, and, according to the surgeon, when he speaks to the oncologist and they give them a bunch of statistics and numbers and time frames to remember they are never right. I got about twenty questions still unanswered, even some that are beneficial to your grandpa, such as; can he drink? can he stop taking the anti-seizure pill that makes him feel loopy? what about lifting more than ten pounds? etc. Your Grandpa Leo just shrugged and said that those answers would have been good to know. But tomorrow the brain oncologist will be calling and scheduling some appointments for him, so more info to come.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Thursday, November 6, 2014


To my son Tommy,

Had a stranger join us for dinner. Never knew who it was, but he brought with him a much needed laugh.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Monday, November 3, 2014


To my son Tommy,

I have too many material things in my life. You, at the ripe age of five probably do too, but that is more my fault than yours. Your grandmother definitely has too much. When you really think about it, most of us do. Some more than others. One of the hardest things to do in life is to not covet material things. It is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder lesson to live by for yourself and for others, especially with the hoarding tendencies hidden in your genetic line. But this I know...I will never let things get in between me and my love for you. On my tombstone it will not read, "He died with many nice things that he loved" but rather "He loved and was loved and everything else mattered little." You can take every material thing I own, as long as I have love to give and love to receive, I have everything.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Sunday, November 2, 2014


To my son Tommy,

It is almost getting comical, because if I don't laugh about it I will just cry. Pulled up to your grandparent's house yesterday, and as we are parking I hear an ambulance sirening its way down Marriottsville Rd. As it comes into view, I can see it slowing. Horrible as it may be, I sat there saying, "Please go to the house next door, please go to the house next door, please..." No such luck. Seems your great grandpa was having trouble with his catheter and couldn't pee. One thing I have learned recently is how having to go can affect a persons mental state. Yeah, I thought they were pulling my leg too when they told me that, but I have seen it first hand now.

I guess I am a little of a "glass half empty" type because the issue was fixed relatively quickly at the hospital and your Great Grandpa Leo was back that night. I should celebrate the wins, and not lament the challenges. And that was a small victory but a victory none the less.

Your Nana Jeanne on the other hand is like the other shoe waiting to drop. She has the needle biopsy coming for the lumps in her breast plus she is patiently waiting for a polyp in her inner plumbing (I believe because of the diverticulitis but I may be confused about that) to send her to the hospital. Oy. Your mom did her cimzia shot today because her innards were acting up too. Plus your mom is currently diligently working on ten thousand school papers that she had to put off because of running around for others. And your Pop-pop has an operation coming soon for his a-fib, which is also on our minds and hearts. That is just the important stuff on top of Grandpa Leo and Grandma Roro.

Other things like house thermostats failing, chores piling up, adjusting to new norms, scheduling logistics, and a small recent crime wave in the neighborhood which has had the police chopper and cars making the rounds almost daily, aka all the more mundane challenges of just living busy life pale in comparison.

Yet despite my natural pessimistic outlook, if I stop and take a deep breath, I can see it. I can see all this love being offered to me, to your grandpa, to your mom, to your grandma, to you, to the whole crew. It comes in the most simplest forms; a co-worker coming to help get the thermostat straight; a hug from a sister in law; a bamboo plant from a long lost bud; a friend suggesting a song that just might make it a little more joyful as we try to get through; a cousin sitting with your Grandmom Roro; an entire school praying for our family; an aunt and uncle helping transport to and from for lab work; an understanding boss who has allowed me to be flexible with work not because he is my uncle but because he cares; your mom's teacher being understanding about due dates and sympathetic to her family obligations during this difficult time; an offer from a brother in law for anything that needs to be done that you can tell by the look in his eye is sincere and solid and not just words; a gentle shoulder; a kind word; countless prayers offered; an ear to bend; a moment to share; a well timed smile; a generous laugh; and seeing my five year old son on bended knee at church praying hard. These examples come from far and near, in person, by phone, by letter, by social media, from friends and family, close and distant, and are so plentiful that I could never recount each and every. These examples are exactly what you need to realize everything is worth it and you just have to keep carrying on.

As your Great Grandpa Leo was always quick to say, "The world just keeps spinning, I just try to hold on" which includes my implied ending of "even if I am holding on by a blade of grass to keep me from hurtling off this rock into the great abyss of space." To all those who have shared those moments, shared their hearts, thank you. Thank you for being our blade of grass to keep us grounded and going.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Too Busy

To my son Tommy,

I get it. People get busy. Voting is a hassle. But when you are older, and you think life is too hectic to bother, remember everything going on in our lives this week, and think of this picture and the fact your old man spared twenty precious minutes to vote early.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Talking In Tongues

To my son Tommy,

One of the funnier things that happened yesterday, and yes even in the direst of times the Downey genetic code seems to seek humor, was your Grandpa Leo speaking. He was all loopie from anesthesia. He was answering a doctor's questions, the exact same dozen questions that they keep asking every five minutes or so. What's your name? When were you born? Do you know where you are? etc. Then the commands. Smile real big. Push up here. Shrug big. Look left. Look right. etc.

Except for the droop in the left side of his face, he was doing alright. He was mumbling a bit but all things considered. The doctor or nurse or whichever health care professional would usually finish with some encouraging statement like "You look to be doing alright," to which your Grandpa would respond "You should see it from this side."

Well on the third or fourth set of questions, he started mumbling something that seemed incoherent. Oh no, here we go. The doctor and nurse were looking around the room at your mom and me, hoping for some recognition. I couldn't understand the mumbling at first. Then I caught the last word, "feo". Did he just call me, or someone else, ugly in Spanish? Worth a try. I answered him in Spanish and told him to speak English. Your Grandpa Leo retorted, "Besame el culo." Oh good. That is Spanish. At least if they crossed some wires in there, they just switched the language circuit rather than scrambling the language circuit. I won't repeat the couple other things he said in Spanish, because decorum prohibits it, but at least one of us in the recovery room understood him. That made the doc and nurse feel better. Not sure they would have been as happy if I translated directly.

Consequently, he asked every new health care professional their nationality. Evidently he wanted to either have a conversation in Spanish or make sure he could cuss them out and complain in a language they didn't understand. That probably offended a couple of them, because an old white guy was asking them where they are from so he seemed to be prejudging, and they would judge right back assuming he wanted to deal with some white guy like him. That was far from the truth. When the one doctor said she was Hebrew, your grandfather started talking Russian. Don't know how that erroneous brain connection was made, but it made me laugh. Oh well, your mom warned everyone about his odd sense of humor. I thought the best was when a doctor came in and dad asked where he was from. "New York City," replied the doctor before adding, "but my family is from India." The doctor took the question in stride, even though you could tell he had been asked something like this many times before in life and was just about tired of it. Later I explained to him the Spanish connection and the doctor seemed pleasantly surprised by your granddad's motivation for asking the question, and then preceded to talk some Spanish to him. It made your granddad smile. And anything that made him smile at that point made me smile!

Sinceramente , con el amor de su papá,

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


To my son Tommy,

As I sit here in the NCCU waiting room of Johns Hopkins, anxiously waiting to be let back to see your Grandpa Leo, I am trying to digest everything that has happened in the past couple hours, days, weeks, etc. First, an update. Your grandpa is out of surgery but not quite out of the woods yet. We will see if he lost any motor function with the brain surgery and it looks like radiation might be in our future. But they got most of the tumor and your Grandpa Leo is alive, so all things considered, I suppose this is a success. 

Your Grandma Roro is being kept another night at GBMC and she is upset and blames me for that. I hope they can figure out why she is going through these delirium episodes but she is now a less than cooperative patient. I will see her later tonight and take my punishment in place of my father.

It occurs to me how amazingly interconnected life is. Had we not convinced dad to get that CT scan last Saturday? I spent years tending bar practicing getting the occasional belligerent drunks to behave and do my bidding. I had to use very similar tactics to get my dad to agree to the scans. Had I not met and married my wonderful wife? She just happened to start studying nursing which gave us a better understanding of everything going on. What would have happened if she was not there to help? Had dad not had the right doctors at the right time with the proper sense of urgency? Little miracles all.

Yet, it is still a sobering thought on how far beyond control life really is. As much as the little miracles of life entwine and help at the right moment, I am reminded that I have to trust in God. Even in those moments that defy all explanation, those moments where everything happens at once, like when you are in the ER for your mom and you get the call to get your dad to the hospital now, and everything that can go wrong seems to be doing so, faith may be the only thing to pull us through. Alright, I am starting to ramble...they better get your mom and me back to see your grandpa soon.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Monday, October 27, 2014

When It Rains, It Pours

To my son Tommy,

"Alright son, if you could break away from work, I need to take your mom to the hospital," said your Grandpa Leo over the phone.

"Be right there," I replied. I could hear my inner voice saying, "You can do this. Your dad's neurosurgeon appointment isn't till Thursday," as I picked up my keys and headed out the door from work. I even thought to myself that it is important to take each issue at hand, one thing at a time. Work is busy and important but this is much more important.

Your Grandma Roro was out of it when I picked them up. Confused, delirious, but at least she was compliant. In fact that is a big sign of her having a problem... she doesn't fight going to the ER. We had been in the ER room for less than two hours when the call from your grandad's doctor came in.

Your grandpa's doctor said, with the recurrent facial ticks, that there is no reason to wait to act on his brain tumor. She had reviewed the MRI and read the reports. She said to go down to Johns Hopkins ER now and get admitted. They would get ready to take this tumor out because, benign or malignant, it was pressing on something. His doctor made some more calls and called back and said rather than sitting in ER she will have the admitting orders ready for him at Johns Hopkins and get down there as soon as he can.

This is one of those rare moments that I needed to clone myself. How in the world am I going to pull this off? I called your mom and she left her nursing school class to come immediately. But my heart and mind are split in about twenty different directions.

I am physically with your Grandma Roro who now is being admitted to GBMC and just got room 3428. Part of my heart and mind is with Grandpa Leo, who was brought down to Johns Hopkins by your mom and finally got the paperwork and room 68 on the 12th floor of Zayed tower. I am also worried about your mom and having to miss some class time plus she was having some sinus infection issues and is due her Cimzia shot. Another part of me is with your Great Grandpa Leo and Nana Jeanne hoping they can manage at the house for right now without anyone. And then I am worried about you and how we are throwing a wrench or your day to day schedule. Did I cover everything going on? I didn't mention work, which is always present and always busy and as soon as run out, comes up with new problems immediately. But that is the least of my worries.

They say God doesn't give you more than you can handle. Evidently he thinks our family is filled with some serious tough as nail badasses that can handle everything at once. Oh well, I guess Noah would have been able to handle that flood easily if it came as a sprinkle over a years worth of time. We will just keep doing whatever it is we have to and I apologize now for any missed Daddy-Tommy time or any of the mistakes I am probably bound to make in the next couple days of being spread thin.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Thursday, October 23, 2014

No Bucket List

To my son Tommy,

This is your Grandpa Leo's brain. With this picture, there is bad news and good news. The bad news of course is that little white circle on the left of the picture, which actually represents the right side of the brain because it is a mirror image. The good news is your grandfather can finally prove to Grandma Roro that he has a brain. Sorry, maybe that is in poor taste but if your Grandpa Leo can make jokes and laugh about it, I will follow his lead.

After this MRI, we know nothing more than we did yesterday. The docs have to get together and look and read and guess. Then they will tell us the plan. We will talk about time and options and risks and who knows, they might get in there and take it out and put this whole thing off for another twenty years or so.

Your Grandpa Leo is taking things in stride, making uncomfortable jokes, and still pissing off your Grandma Roro. In other words nothing much has changed, except he isn't driving and occasionally has a facial tick. Oh and he wants to find a local bar serving gluten free Redbridge beer and order two more (aka tumor) beers. I told you the jokes were in poor taste.

The other day, as I was driving your grandfather back from a doctor appointment, he says to me, "You know, I was trying to think if I had a bucket list. I don't. There is nothing I desperately want or need to do."

I suggested that he create a bucket list anyhow but keep it simple. For example his bucket list should be "I want to eat Bertha's mussels." which of course he retorted that he has done that plenty of time. My reply, "Yeah, but have you done it this week?"

Our conversations during drives to and from doctors' offices have run the gambit. We talk about you, and mommy, and Roro, and your great grandparents. We talk about life and death and God. We talk about important philosophical principals and we talk about mundane things like cable internet speed and our online game. We laugh and joke probably a little bit more than we should.

But over the past two days, I keep coming back in my mind to that "No bucket list". Somehow, this great man sitting in the passenger seat next to me, facing a little white blob on a MRI that would completely destroy some people, has done it all, or at least done enough. Oh to live life, that faced with a potential end, you have no bucket list, nothing left unsaid or undone, and you willingly accept your turn to be the instrument in which those around you can receive the grace of God by taking care of you and those around you, even if it means facing suffering. Your grandfather is still teaching his son. The extremes this man goes to to drive home a lesson. Jeesh.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Subtle Hyperdensity

To my son Tommy,

Your grandfather went to the ER today because he thought he might be having a stroke. He was working in the yard and left side of his face started twitching. He is ultra aware of the signs of stroke, so he hurried in and told Uncle Kevin to take him to the ER. On the way, Grandpa Leo was pushing on his face and the twitching stopped. By the time I got to the ER, roughly ten minutes after your Grandma Roro called to alert us, Grandpa Leo was convinced there was nothing wrong and that he was wasting everyone's time and the hospital was out to financial optimize his visit.

After convincing my stubborn father that a couple quick scans might help us all sleep better tonight, he finally agreed to stay for a bit. Those scans, specifically the CT scan, aren't going to help us sleep better tonight. "Subtle hyperdensity in the deep/subcortical white matter of the right frontoparietal region." is a fun way of saying brain tumor. Later on in the diagnosis it says one of the possibilities is "metastatic disease" which is a fun way of saying it might be cancer. They wanted to admit your grandad and get started right away. But your grandpa decided to head home anyway and will deal with it through his doctors come Monday. In his mind, it is the weekend and he knows how hospitals work (or actually don't work) on the weekends and getting some fancy hi def pictures (aka MRI) right away isn't going to help his cause. I don't know if he made the right decision or not, but I do know you come from a long line of stubborn Irishmen, especially when it comes to our health. On the way home, Grandpa Leo expressed anger, not at possibility of having brain cancer, but rather that it is coming at such an inopportune time while he taking care of his wife, and his mom, and his dad. That's your grandpa for ya. It is that attitude of his that somehow has me not sleeping while I am here at my house rather than not sleeping while I am staying over at his house in case he has a seizure or something. Prayers my son, we need prayers, perhaps to God for his intercession using the ArchAngel Raphael who is the "medicine of God" and we include just about everyone in our family now.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

P.s. The pic was on my iPad because I was going through my wedding pics on my anniversary and that was one of the only ones with just me and dad.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

All Is Fleeting

To my son Tommy,

I got anxious and nervous and agitated about work this morning. There was a screw up that could have cost the company some money and I had to fix it. Maybe I screwed up in the first place, maybe I didn't, but at the minimum I should have caught it. I like to think of myself as an attention to detail, "nothing can get by me" kind of guy. It unfortunately gives me a "world on my shoulders" outlook of life.

While I was ruing on this mistake and pondering on the steps to correct the mistake, all while driving into work a bit flustered and much more aggressively than I should have on a rainy day, I had an epiphany. All is fleeting. I was about to ruin my day, and maybe some other people's day, by letting this get to me.This is not going to ruin my day. In the grand scheme of things this is just another day with another challenge.

I get like that from time to time. I get all bothered and worked up about life, and money, and jobs, and mistakes, and such. I get like that to the point of missing what is truly important. It doesn't take a scholar of the meditations of Marcus Aurelius to realize that concern for such things is wasted concern. He wrote, "Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too." In other words, this too shall pass.

My biggest fear, and this one may be justified and worth my concern, is that you will watch me and inherit this trait. I don't want that for you. I want you to focus in on the more important things in life, such as love and compassion and faith and hope. I don't want you, as they say, "sweating the small stuff" because all of it truly is small stuff. 

I can give you that attitude, and abate my fear. I just have to change myself. For it is my example, for it is my way of living, for it is my worries, that will filter to you. You will adopt and adapt from us, your parents, first and foremost. Only by being mindful of myself, of my worries, and changing my response to the challenges of life, can I gift you the peace of life you deserve. Funny, of all the things you can give to someone, giving of yourself is greater than all the rest.
"Today I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out all trouble, for it was not outside, but within and in my opinions." Marcus Aurelius

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Penis Seminars

To my son Tommy,

"Hey Daddy! Guess what?! My penis feels fine!" you yelled from your bed. I giggled to myself thinking that every man should yell this out every morning he wakes.

You see, you have had a couple issues over the past day or two. Two days ago at school, you told your teacher and the school nurse that it hurt when you went potty. We drilled you about this at home and you described the pain to be in your gut or your bladder. Through the influence of your great aunt, we got a late night doctor appointment with your doctor's office. The urine culture came back fine and the doctor said as long as there isn't a fever, there should be no infection and nothing to worry about.

Well, last night you complained about your penis hurting. This time it was something different and I assume the problems being back to back are coincidental. You were chaffed, and after going to bed you called down with your new issue. Your mom went upstairs armed with her nursing prowess and Caldasene powder to address the issue. A couple minutes later you called down saying it still hurt and started crying.

It was time for someone who could commiserate on a different level because he has been there. You see mothers, and for that matter women in general, have had (and often still have every month) more pain than you were experiencing. I could give you tons of visuals using metaphors about squeezing watermelons through holes and bleeding for so many days, but I'd prefer you to just take my word at this point. The catch is, having a higher degree of pain is not the same as being able to understand the very specific pain and worry when it comes to man parts. You needed someone who knew exactly what you were feeling. You needed your dad!

We decided you could sleep commando and that made you feel better for a little bit. But soon you realized it wasn't enough, so I had to stay up in your room discussing things. I felt like I was a keynote speaker at a seminar for one. So I decided to list out stuff we talked about as if they were titles for breakout sessions.

  • Proper Anatomical Terms: It isn't less embarrassing if he calls it a schwanstugel
  • Been There, Done That, I Cried: A personal story from long ago of an inflamed blackhead that popped up in a precarious location and how it had to be dealt with.
  • This Might Sting: A discussion of which bathroom wipes contain alcohol and how they interact with chaffed skin.
  • It Takes Time: An in depth survey into the power of Caldasene powder and how it isn't an instantaneous cure and most medicines rarely are.
  • Moisture Wars: A practical look into how adding toilet paper to your post urination arsenal may help keep you dry till you master "the shake". May also delve into "Penguin Walks" if time permits.
  • Clean And Dirty: How often is too often when it comes to showering? Are there alternatives? What are the things you can skip and things you can't in your daily cleaning routing?
  • The Commando Effect: An examination of the cooling, healing, and drying effects of ceiling fans and going without bottoms. Also including flips, flops, and folds and how position counts.
  • Distraction Techniques: How counting to one hundred can remove the focus from the pain.
  • Is There Nothing You Can Do?: Delve into the emotions of a helpless father who hears his son ask this when the son realizes the powder and counting and no underwear really hasn't done crap to better the current situation.
  • School Is So Going To Call Home About This: A hard hitting study on discussing post traumatic crotch experience as a kindergartner even though your mom told you not to and predicting the likelihood that a Catholic school might have a few questions.
Trust me son, this is the stuff you are not going to learn about in school. This is the stuff you are going to have to talk about with your son some day. It really isn't fun nor funny. You have to deal with this in all seriousness (while still maintaining a sense of humor) and with as much honesty and clarity as possible, even though it can seem uncomfortable and embarrassing. Luckily, I had a father and mother who taught me very matter of factly about stuff like this. That is why I can tell you very clearly what is what and tell you directly what has to happen. 

Thus endeth the penis seminars. I hope you have enjoyed our lectures and discussions and have found some useful practices to stop needless chaffing or at least to deal with the results the next time it happens. And it will happen again. And I will be right there with more info and suggestions.

Sincerely with love from your dad,