Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Urgency

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,
Leo

Monday, April 3, 2017

Grief

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,
Leo

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Stages



To my son Tommy,

Each person processes death and grief in their own manner. The professionals can't even concur how many stages of grief there are with some listing five...denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance...and others further separating categories to include shock and guilt each as their own stage. They can't even tell us how long each stage will last or which order they will come. Some move directly through the list in order and quickly while others hop around the list in varying levels often returning to a stage they thought they already managed. I don't know if even classifying the stages help; it almost seems dehumanizing and all too clinical.

One stage your Grandpa would not want you, or any of us for that matter, to feel is guilt. He would not want us mad at ourselves for carrying on. He would not want every smile on our face or laugh in our voice to be questioned. He would not want us wondering if we deserve happiness again or if we gave a proper amount of time to being sad. He would delight in each of us living our life in the fullest and ask us to continue to search among friends and families for those moments that seem to thumb their nose at stages and categories and other such classifications. He would remind us life is messy so get out there and live the mess. For me, it is easier said than done. I have to compartmentalize and separate my sorrow from my fun as I try to move on without my father. For you however, you have an uncanny way to manage your sadness and your joy, the past and the present, our loved ones gone with our loved ones here, in some type of homogeneous existence and celebration of life as you soldier on through it.

Last night, life continued on for you. Your mom and you had won four tickets on the radio contest called "The College of Knowledge" on 101.9. The tickets were for the ballet "Excalibur: The Sword and the Stone" put on by the Ballet Theater of Maryland at the Lyric. Well you only know one young lady extremely into dance, so you invited Rhiannon to attend. Chaperoned by your mom and your Aunt Kelly, off you guys went while your dad and Uncle Eric vegged out at the house with Wyatt and Garrett. We all joked that it was your first official date.

The ballet went off without a hitch. You had good seats that were in row O (that is the letter O and not row zero like your mom originally read). I think your mom learned to appreciate musicals that have speaking, more words, less interpretation, as she questioned her appreciation for ballet in general during the show. Your Aunt Kelly, who has learned a thing or two behind the scenes with Rhiannon's dance productions, said the show was great! You described it as a wonderful time and only regretted not having enough time to play with Garrett and Wyatt. Your dad and Uncle Eric talked and watched silly tv shows and tried (unsuccessfully) to limit the amount of toy chaos caused by the two boys at home.

And so life goes on. No need to feel guilty for having a wonderful time with a brand new experience. The ballet stage is a stage of grief that your Grandpa Leo would want you to experience. That is what life is about. And during each of these moments to come, your Grandpa Leo will be there in your heart. Sometimes a memory might pop up and bring you some sadness when you least expect it, but that is okay too. It doesn't mean you are wrong for enjoying life, enjoying the moment, it is just our loved ones passed trying to enjoy it with us. Our hearts are incredible machines with the ability to fit all this emotion in it and not even begin to stretch to capacity. Our hearts can handle both or all these emotions at once. We just have to learn to allow that to happen. Sometimes that can seem incredibly difficult and sometimes it even hurts, but, if we can learn this lesson, we will be better off for it. So be it by putting a colander on your head, or attending the ballet, or just soldiering on and showing up for each day, we each process things in our own way. This one thing is for certain, life does carry on.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo




Saturday, April 1, 2017

To Understand The Colander, You Have To Wear the Colander



To my son Tommy,

Well, there are weird going-ons in this house. Yesterday, we discovered the basement foundation leaking in a spot square in the middle of the back storage room's west wall.

Water was pouring in. Seems the contractor your grandpa had out years ago to water proof the foundation did a crappy job of patching a pipe through the wall. It wouldn't be the first time we had found how crappy this contractor turned out to be, but it might have been one of the most non-appropriate times. I'd say he never really ever succeeded in waterproofing the foundation and we have been fighting these skirmishes with water for some time now. Of course I have no idea why that pipe exists, as it connects to nothing, perhaps just an unused foundation sleeve. Your Grandpa Leo would know. And why did it leak yesterday? I bet it has been leaking for some time but yesterday the stars aligned and showed it to us. Or perhaps Grandpa Leo lead us to this? Or perhaps Grandpa Leo is just screwing with us? One of his favorite sayings to me during troubled times was, "Don't worry. It will get worse."

This morning the electric in the house flickered off. Hasn't flickered in ages. It was only out for two minutes. Long enough to wake me because my CPAP went off. Long enough for Grandpa Leo's soul to say, "Let's see how you handle no electric in the...oh wait you already have the tubs filled with water in case of that? Good job boy. I'll turn it back on."

Of course, his soul has more to worry about than the earthly worries of this world. I know any coincidence or causation I attribute to him is more me reaching and trying to find him here with me in another sense. But if I want to find him here with me, all I have to do is reach in, not out. All we have to do is reach deep within ourselves and see the love and the memories and the teachings he left all of us. Like the lesson of the colander.

One of the most common questions I get about your Grandpa Leo is "What is up with wearing a colander?" They have so many theories even going as far to suggest he was part of the parody religion of the Pastafarians. Well, I can tell you...your Grandpa Leo was wearing a colander on his head way before any jackass started worshiping a flying spaghetti monster to make fun of religion. In fact when Grandpa Leo found out of that cult, he almost put an end to colanders, but alas beer mugs don't fit on heads. So what is the meaning?

The meaning is different for everyone. To understand the colander, you have to wear the colander. Of course there are some basic principles in the colander-head relationship. Donning the colander recaptures your youth, when a child would wear pots and pans and pretend she (or he) was an armored knight of yore fighting a dragon. Wearing the colander makes sure you and others don't take life too seriously and embrace the absurdity of it all. It fills a void, the need for silliness in our life, a need which grows larger with every passing year into adulthood. It is tough to wear a colander without wearing a smile and the world needs more people to wear smiles.

Now over the years, your Grandpa Leo would argue the practicality of colander wearing as opposed to the existential benefits. He would tip his "hat" to the foil wearing conspiracy theorists through out the world and argue it protects his brain waves from aliens or government spying. He would quickly point out that it allowed your head to breath while still providing protection. The iconic picture of you and him on the bench, with you in that colander, comes from bird-watching. Some swallows had nested on the front porch. You guys were going to see them. They were dive bombing people who got too close. Your grandpa wanted to protect your noggin. And you, you accepted the colander without question. And a tradition was passed on to another generation. Your Grandpa Leo also argued that no one else would pick up his hat and it was easily identifiable when he needed to grab it while leaving. And then there was the practicality that it drove your Grandma Roro just mad, a husband's prerogative.

Your Great Uncle Paddy recently donned a colander in honor of his brother. It wasn't the first time as you can see by an earlier picture I have posted below. This time, he encouraged others to put on their fanciest. Many responded. A fitting tribute to a man who knew much of life wasn't worth the worry and if you just put on your colander for a few moments you could protect yourself from the worry that comes with the stresses of life. Plus it is fun.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

P.S. The first one is of Uncle Paddy around March of 2015 or so. The rest (except for you and Grandpa Leo on the bench) are current and of people (the ones I have collected so far) near and far, donning their colander in respect for your Grandpa Leo trying to create some smile wrinkles to channel the tears away from our whisky.




Friday, March 31, 2017

Rest In The Peace Of Christ



To my son Tommy,

This morning your grandfather, Leo Thomas Downey III, passed into eternal life. We woke you to come say your goodbyes but you had already made your peace with his passing. You gave his body a quick kiss and went back downstairs to bed. For this action, I know your grandpa would consider you the smart one of the bunch.

Here is something I wrote out  to submit to the newspaper, preparing for your Grandpa Leo's death.

21 May 1948 – 31 March 2017
Leo Thomas Downey III (U.S. Army Major Retired) passed the morning of Friday the 31st of March in his home surrounded by loved ones after an extended two and a half year battle with stage four glioblastoma brain cancer.
He is survived by his wife of forty five years Rosemarie “Ro” Ann Downey (nee Klein), his only son Leo Thomas Downey IV, his daughter in law Kathleen “Cassie” Downey (nee Frazier),  his grandson Thomas Leo Downey, his mother Jeanne Downey (nee Kidwell), his three brothers Kevin Downey, Sean Downey, and Padraig “Paddy” Downey and their families that were so dear to him, his aunt Sheila Melzac (nee Downey), his uncle John Downey, and many cousins and in-laws and nephews and nieces and grand nephews and grand nieces and friends too numerous to mention but each very dear to him. He lived a very adventurous and blessed life filled with joy and happiness as he delighted in the most simple pleasures and curious oddities and the love of his very extended family.
My father has donated his body to science and there will be no official funeral services at this immediate time. A memorial mass will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers or other such common gestures accompanied with death, I believe my father would appreciate it if you were to give a little more in your local church collection basket or poor box and say a prayer for his soul as you do so. If you have time and feel so inclined, he would have also encouraged you to go to confession and remind you it is never to late to return to your faith. Otherwise, celebrate his life with a smile on your face, a gluten free drink in your hand, and a colander on your head.
Thank you.
Sincerely Leo Thomas Downey IV.

So that is what I came up with. Trust me there is so much more to this man than any announcement in any publication can handle. Listing all those that he touched, all those that he loved, all those that will grieve his loss, would fill an entire section of the paper. With his selfless final donation, there are no viewings and no time or place for others to send their condolences, at least not now. So for now we will have to just keep on keeping on. Perhaps that is the way he meant it to be.

Sincerely with love and sadness,
from your dad,
Leo

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Look With Your Heart

To my son Tommy,

I realize yesterday's letter was filled with a large amount of despair. In troubling times, we often find ourselves with these feelings. This letter today is inspired by today's Holy Mass and  influenced by all the outpouring of loving gestures, big and small, near and far, that have come in, and encouraged by some responsive moments with your Grandpa Leo this very morning.

Many will look at your Grandfather Leo and say, "How sad. He is just a shell of what he used to be." They will compare their memories of then to what they see now. These people are looking with their eyes, yet they can't see.

"I once was blind, but now I see". Through God's mercy and grace, I have been taught to see with my heart and I see something very different. When I look at my father, I still see Christ's strength, a strength that your grandfather personified each and every day of his life. I now also see Christ's struggle. I see Christ's suffering. And most importantly, I see, or perhaps foresee, Christ's triumph over death and His promise for us to do the same.

As I look with my heart at those who share their love and prayers and care for your grandfather, I see them differently. I see them as caretakers, even if they aren't here changing his linens, or administering his medications. It could be a kind word. It could be a call or post. It could be a prayer or hug from afar. In all these actions, I see God's mercy. I see God's compassion. I see God's love. My father has become an instrument in which we can all receive God's saving grace and bear witness to such, as long as we look from our hearts.

I still don't understand death, and won't fully understand it until the day after I pass. This world will definitely be a little less when your Grandpa Leo finally passes. But this world is already immensely better off for him having lived. So when you look with your eyes, and fill with despair, and lose faith, stop and look with your heart and there you will find hope. There you will find Jesus. Perhaps there you will find the only true peace and comfort that can soothe you during times like this.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Time To Prepare



To my son Tommy,

I have had time prepare. I mean your Grandpa Leo has been on hospice for nearly three weeks. That is three weeks to come to terms and get used to the idea that I will soon lose my father from this earth. I mean he has had this terminal diagnosis for twenty nine months. That is twenty nine months to come to terms with his impending demise. Hell, technically, I have had nearly forty three years to try to figure out death and come to terms with the fact that we all die and that life in and of itself is a terminal disease.

Then why, if I have had all this time to ready myself for the inevitable, does it become so much more difficult as that time draws nearer and nearer? In all these years, I feel like I am more bewildered and more lost when it comes to death than I ever have been. I have nothing to give you, no words of wisdom, no comfort, that will make this any easier and I realize that no one in this world will be able to give me what I crave to give you. The will try to give words of comfort but right now to me they are meaningless. You will look to me for comfort and how to handle and what pearls of wisdom can I give you?The only thing I can say is this really sucks. Not exactly Socrates or Dylan Thomas.

It probably won't be long now. Your Grandpa Leo is having difficulty swallowing which means he can't take his meds and he hasn't been eating much. A hospice nurse is on her way to most likely instruct us on the imminent death protocol. He is resting comfortably in this picture and hopefully will remain at peace.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Friday, February 24, 2017

Being Direct



To my son Tommy,

I have to say things directly. Your grandfather's health has deteriorated the past few weeks. It had been going down all along but the past two weeks showed marked decrease. He has been moved to home hospice care. 

The last CT scan showed swelling in the brain which caused a midline shift where the right side of the brain is squeezing his left side of the brain. We had an MRI the other day and await those results to see if the increased meds will alleviate the symptoms a bit. This swelling caused by tumor growth or treatment or just the natural progression of the cancer, is what will eventually kill him. In the meantime, it has become difficult to care for him and we needed help, thus the hospice.

The hospice nurse today suggested to your mom (I had to work today) that things might happen quickly. From the  nurse's twenty some odd years of experience, she thinks he has about two weeks to live. Bah, what do any medical professionals know? Taking that estimate with a healthy dose of skepticism salted with a bit of denial. Your Grandpa Leo has been anything but typical when it comes to beating the odds and besting timelines, but it is still a sad and sobering thought. Even if he bests this guess by ten times the amount of days, facing the eventuality is becoming all too real.

Death comes for us all and leaves many behind to grieve. Your Grandpa always told me that he doesn't fear death and suggested we celebrate life instead. He said that is the Downey way. So, there will be plenty of time for grief later. For now, we will enjoy the moments we have with your Grandpa Leo. Every day is precious and if you live life with one eye constantly on the finish line, you might forget to enjoy running the race. Of all the "Downey ways" this one may be the toughest to understand and accept. But your Grandpa Leo is a shining example of how to approach the end on this earth. So right now we have to pull up our big boy pants, put on our suspenders, don our colanders atop our head, and enjoy the precious moments gifted to us by God, no matter how much we dread the difficult times ahead.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy 8th



To my son Tommy,

Happy birthday, my son! Eight years old. When I look at you I can simultaneously see the child that came before and the man to come, wrapped in the body of an eight year old who is so excited to get older and just happy to be alive and with the ones he loves.

At age eight, your heart is your number one asset. Sure you have your intelligence, and an eagerness to keep learning, and you have your looks (must be from Mommy), and a good sense of humor, and you still have that youthful innocence and a tenacious loyalty to your friends, and you have some crazy dance moves to go with some vocal chops, basically you have the total package that will someday make you quite the catch...but your heart is by far the biggest and best thing that you have. You love deeply. You care sincerely. You cry hard. You laugh loud. You hug tightly. You snuggle softly. Your love, and the love we feel for you, is what helps your mom and I get through each and every day!

With a big heart, comes heartbreak. Even today, on a joyful occasion, you were in tears because you did not know that Sunday's birthday celebration was just planned for family. Your heart broke that all the friends you told could not come. Even though Mommy planned on Red Robin tonight for just us, and perhaps some time with a friend or two tomorrow if it works out, and the Sunday Frazier side small birthday, you were still hurt. It happens.

In the future, hopefully well into the future as you grow, things are going to happen to make your heart hurt even more. Family will pass on. Friends will move on. Promises will be broken. Lovers (well into the future) will leave. You will feel heart broken and curse this big heart of yours for the amount of pain it allows you to feel. You will feel like your biggest asset is your worst weakness. But don't stop loving. It is what makes you, you. Love is the only thing that can mend a heart that was broken with love. But that is in the future. Today, we celebrate and feel the love! So enjoy your cupcakes, however you like!

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

P.S. The dream of having the Red Robin staff sing their birthday song to you, quickly erased any sadness and put an amazingly huge smile on your face!