Sunday, May 21, 2017

Birthday Lament

To my son Tommy,

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

Sincerely with love from your dad,

To my dad Leo,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely with love from your son,