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Seafoam and Shadow

She dreamt in color
She dreamt in light
Of the moon on the wavecaps
And the impression her feet make
In sand and seafoam.

And I dream of those footprints
And the light that filled them
The foam that took their shape
The shadows that became them.

And walk the beach under full moon light
Looking back at my own footprints
Trying to forget I just left them.

Watching them fill with shadow and seafoam
And wash into the waves,
Into the sea
To be shined upon by moonlight.

Trying to forget I just left them.

I can do that.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Reviewer holds Songs from the Well “Close to (her) Chest”

The newest review for my latest book, Songs from the Well. If you haven’t read it, this reviewer thinks you should.

I’ve just finished Songs from the Well by Adam Byrn Tritt and I’m in awe. At the moment, I’m sitting on my recliner, holding my kindle close to my chest because I can find no other perfect place to have this story other than close to my heart. My heart is swelling with love and breaking at the same time, my eyes are tearing from admiration and sadness and I am finding it hard to concentrate on anything other than this book. This book is, hands down, 5 stars. Wow.

From the very first page of Songs from the Well, I was in love. Adam Byrn Tritt’s story about his wife’s life, family and contribution to the world and everyone around her placed me in his shoes and showed me exactly why he was- and still is- absolutely head over heels in love with her.

This story is packed full of sweet sentiments, hilarious stories of Adam and Adam’s wife- Lee’s- adventures, heart warming family connections and tissue worthy poetry.

This book is not very long, but I’ll admit to you all, my faithful readers, that it took me three days to read. Not because it was difficult to get through, but because I wanted to savor the story. I wanted to take my time with Adam’s recollections of Lee’s life, their experiences of grief and mourning and wonderful insights for ways to look at life.

Adam also writes a letter to his granddaughter about his family and their ancestors and past, which makes me envious for that rich of a family history.

This author and Songs from the Well will capture your heart and fill your emotional bucket with love, friendship, laughter and sorrow.

Rebecca Tyndall –  The Literary Connoisseur

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2013 in Books, Writing

 

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My fourth book is out and you must buy it. Songs from the Well: A Memoir of Love and Grief

An author must practice promotion. And be utterly shameless about it. In this case, it is easy.

Songs from the Well: A Memoir of Love and Grief.   Out in time for Lee, my wife’s (I cannot use the word “late”) birthday.

From Amazon: Songs from the Well is a memoir, selected from the author’s writings and told in essays and poetry, of the author’s life with his wife, Lee, through her diagnosis with brain cancer and death five months later, to the aftermath of dealing with his grief and facing a life without her.

100% the profits go to the local charity, Cancer Care Center of Brevard Foundation. They do not do research or anything alike that and have no administrative costs. All the money goes to pay for things those in treatment and their families can’t afford due to their treatment. Like water bills. Gas to get to appointments.Rent.Like that.Please please help us raise fund and help those who have gone through this process, but think they are alone.  So buy the book and share this link.

Or just scan the QR below with your phone and it will go right to the correct page.

We can celebrate her birthday with her by reading her stories. By celebrating her. And helping those who helped her when she needed it the most. And, frankly, if you don’t want to read it, buy it anyway. It is $4.95.

It is an ebook. It can be read on a Kindle, or on an iPhone or Android phone with a free Kindle app or on any PC with the free Kindle program or on Amazon with their CloudReader. If it goes well, we’ll do a paperback edition as well, but, for now, ebook was the way to go to raise the funds.

Don’t want to read it? Fine. it is $4.95. Download it into nothing. let is spend it electrons into the free air. But buy it. The idea is to raise money for the Foundation in Lee’s name. And as much as we can by her birthday, 4/22.

And we got it out in time for her birthday. I want to see how much we can raise for them and how far we can get this.

Please buy one, share this, send it out, whatever we can do to help refill their coffers and remember her birthday.

Thanks.

Scan the QR to buy the book! 100% of the profits go to charity.

Scan the QR to buy the book! 100% of the profits go to charity.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Books, Family, philosophy, Poetry, Suicide, Writing

 

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Sleep

I have attempted to chronicle each step in this journey of grief and healing. Each time I do, the openness of sharing it has been, I am told, of service to others. Each time, others have found it helpful. I have done my best to live openly, and lose openly, to the fullness of my ability and knowledge.

I wrote this about a week ago.

I posted it that night.

At least I thought I had posted it. I have never had trouble posting to my blog before, but this ended up, each time, in the Drafts folder. I asked my editor, who has access to my blog, for help.

He read it.  He said he was glad it seemed stuck as a draft. He was afraid that giving this voice might make it become so.

I erased it.

I have learned, through years of teaching and using narrative therapy, that the best way to move an emotional state out is to bring it out as fully as possible. Putting it into words, as fully, as accurately, with as much detail, emotion, and directness as possible, is one of the best ways to do that. It also means it is then outside, not being repeated in one’s head, all day, all night, on and on.

My editor showed it to my psychologist. Dr. Sarah Arnett. She explained to him that writing about it or talking about it, was far from dangerous: not talking about it was the danger. And, as scary as it is, people who feel this way must be allowed to talk about it. Not told it is wrong. Not given trite reasons to go on or have clichés foisted upon them, not told they have so much to live for, not told there are people who would miss them. They know this. But none of that helps. They need to give voice to the sorrow, or the anger, so it can come out.

My friend Joyce, she got it. She and I laughed one evening over the ways we’d end it. How we could do it without it looking like we had any real part in it. It was good to know someone understood.

So here it is. After checking with the kids, letting them know it was OK, here it is.

Maybe reading this, more people will know it is OK to listen, without fear, to a friend or loved one who feels this way. It is not a plan. It is a feeling. It is loss and longing and anger and sorrow looking for cessation, surcease, palliation. It is not life that wants the end, but the pain.

Maybe reading this, more people who feel this way will know it is OK to say it, to write it, instead of letting it grow inside, instead of letting it eat one up, take over. Instead of doing it.


The moon doesn’t change as I walk. It doesn’t move. Not perceptibly. The wind pushes steadily in the direction of the incoming waves so that I must push back to keep myself at the shoreline.  A little struggle, a bit of resistance, friction, is good, if it is tangible. If it is clear.

I know, over time, the moon will rise. I can watch it as much as I like, but I’ll never perceive the movement. Yet, over time, move it will, higher and higher, then set again, and be gone.

Over the last two years, if I look back, I can see where I’ve been, what has changed. The pace is, perhaps, glacial. But I think, at last, it, too, is setting. I don’t want to watch it anymore.

I have a good life. A wonderful life. I have been the luckiest of men. I have, in the real sense of what one needs, wanted for nothing. I want for nothing now. I am surrounded by goodness and love. A splendid family, children anyone would be proud off, friends anyone would be blessed with. I was married for nearly thirty years to the most wonderful of women. There is nothing wrong. But I don’t want it.

I don’t want to linger anymore. I don’t want to just wait for the day I can see her again, or discover there is nothing to see, but rest, and darkness and nothingness. I can wait around, and just be. But there seems little reason. No motivation.

I know my friends, my family will differ with this, but the last year and a half has proven life goes on, that things happen, and we continue. I’m just choosing that I don’t wish too. My kids are off and fine and my wife is gone. So, no need.

I promised her I’d go and be happy. It may be the only promise to her I didn’t keep. I’m trying to. Leaving feels more like keeping it than the intangible struggle of the day to day. The struggle to be, to find reasons to wake up.

I don’t want to hear about the little pleasures. I know about them. Flowers. Hugs, sunrises.  But the last few nights, I have had dreams: sitting and talking with my Lee. All night, just talking, like the best friends we are. And that is all I can want.

I promised her, as well, I’d not join a monastery. That I’d not become a Buddhist monk. I’ll keep that promise. I promised I’d not allow myself to spend my life alone. But I am a shy creature, and do not venture out by myself, do not mingle, meet, join, talk to people I don’t know. I don’t party or partake or parlay or participate in things social. So I am left with a second promise it appears I cannot keep.

Being alone is not a problem. Lack of contact, feeling isolated—that is. I can feel it. And to not feel it, I have to deny it.

I don’t want to deaden anything with alcohol, or take pills. I don’t want to not feel. But it seems most feelings are disappearing on their own. And I am left with…what?  A sad nostalgia of belonging to a place and person not here. A feeling for which English has no word.

I’m going day by day. Making plans for the very near future only.  Living today for what I need to do today. Tomorrow will be for today. The next day will be for today. Only today. Give me a task, I’ll do it. Why not? For now.

Real plans I have none. No goals. Nothing to aspire to.  And I have no real plans to end anything, but each night, I wonder, how do I not wake when the sun rises? How can my sleep be one from which I do not wake? How can my dream go on and on?

Suicide is not illegal. Only doing something to oneself that is obviously designed to lead to termination in the very short term. One may not poison oneself with a vial but one may with chemicals, knowing that time is all it takes. One may not do without food or water, but one may choose things which will hasten one’s end. One may not leap but one may walk too close. And one may slip.

I am taking excellent care of myself. I may be in the best shape of my life. And getting better. My life is simple. I do nothing that may immediately lead to my leaving. I do nothing that anyone can look at, can point to, can identify as a cause, of it being my fault. So I exercise, eat well, rest. But neither do I do anything to prolong my stay.  I no longer put on my seat belt. I am careless. I pay little attention. Most of the time, I am just thinking, how much more sweet to sleep.

I have no plan. Just opportunity.

I grew tired of people saying things were God’s will, that it was time, that there is a plan. Fine, I say, then. If something happens, it happens. It was a plan. Whatever happens, if I was supposed to take some strange comfort in there having been a plan for my wife’s hideous, painful death, then those who believe such can feel the same way about whatever happens next as well.

I don’t want anyone to suffer. And I was told, over and over, not to care so much about others that I let myself suffer as a result.  OK. Now I’m listening.

I was told I wasn’t needed by others as much as I thought. That I could live my life for myself, for my own desires. I said don’t try to convince me of that. I said it would be a bad day if ever I believed that.   Now, I believe it.

I’m tired of it. I just want it to end. The day-to-day drudge of just waiting until I see her again. I used to feel that tomorrow would be fine, or next week, next year, or forty years. It didn’t matter. But now it does. I wasn’t meant to do this by myself and I want out.

I have cancelled my appointments. I don’t need them. No doctors. No psychologist. Let the appointments be for someone for whom they will be of some use. Someone who wants to stay.

I asked my daughter once, after she tried to take her own life, to promise she would not hurt herself. She said she could not make that kind of promise. I understood. I never asked again.  My psychologist asked me to promise I would not hurt myself.  I could not make that promise.

Sometime, soon, I can hope, emotion and opportunity will come together, for a moment.

Tomorrow I will go for a walk. Next week, I have a call to make, and a book I might put together. That is the extent of my life’s plans.

The moon tonight is full. I can look at it all night, and it will never seem to change. It will be like that, forever. Or so it seems. And that is enough.

2/27/2013

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2013 in Culture, Family, philosophy, psychology, Social, Suicide, Writing

 

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The Feather and the Weight

Someone asked me if I remembered the good times. Why I could remember the details of the bad times, but not recall the specifics of all the good ones. I answered.

Because the good times are so much more ephemeral. Evanescent. Even among the grandness of life, the good, the joyous, is found in the seemingly insignificant, made up of moments, small kindnesses, sincere unbidden smiles, the touch of the hand, a glance. Whispers. They possess an ineffability that affects us deeply but leaves its mark on our inner world. Like religious experience, they are hard to grasp, but exist no less. Over time, they add up to goodness. Each not so different than another, but with a feeling of being filled with goodness though one may cast about for specific examples.

And the bad times. They come like startling punches to the gut amid the good moments. So surprising, the shock embeds the details in memory.

Some days we get up, look outside at the gorgeousness of the day. And we feel filled with joy and delight. But what particular sunny day do you recall? How many? But the storms amid them? The horrific storms we remember, blow by blow.

The good becomes ubiquitous. The bad embeds in space and time.

The good does not diminish but persists even though we cannot point to it.

And the bad can fade, unless it is refreshed. Unless the storms come again, and again. Punched too often, one becomes sore and shy.

It doesn’t minimize the goodness at all. But our memory treats them differently. Joy and trauma do not process the same way. Pleasure and pain are not remembered alike.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2013 in philosophy, psychology

 

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Peek-a-boo

I dislike people asking me how I am. Generally, I am well. Or some version of well, depending on varying definitions. But being unwell has never got me anywhere so I see no point in it.

My doctor once complained to me that people complain too much about common ailments when they should just accept the body is imperfect and live their lives instead of whining so much. Sure, get checked out and stay as healthy as possible. And quit bitching. Then she looked at me and said, “if anyone has a right to complain, it is you. If people knew what you deal with, they’d shut up.” True, maybe. But I don’t think so. People like to complain. Some like to be miserable. Misery makes them happy.

Most of the people I see on a regular basis know not to ask me how I am unless they mean it. I don’t mean friends. I mean people I see but don’t know well. Cashiers, postal workers, bank tellers. We are always friendly. I am not the stuck-up, elitist, aloof snot many people think I am. I just don’t do smalltalk and pleasantries.

For instance, at my local grocery store, most of the people don’t ask me how I am doing. I even come in on occasion with my service-vested dog. Then they know I am not doing as well as I might like. Or that Dusty just wanted an outing.

Cashiers ask everyone how they are doing. They also always ask me if I found everything I was looking for. That is a habit I can’t seem to break them of. But asking me how I am doing is something most no longer do.

They used to. And I would answer with a question. “Is that a pro-forma question or are you genuinely interested in the state of my health and general tenor of my life? Because if you are, I will tell you. If you are not, please don’t ask.” They usually answer honestly that it is just the thing to say and we generally go on to have a pleasant financial transaction without the unnecessary interpersonal interaction and personal disingenuousness.

Once, the manager saw me staring at the soup cans. Five minutes later, she walked around again and saw me staring at the soup cans. She asked me if she could help me find something. Well, yes, I said, stunned back to a more shared and active version of reality. “Chicken and rice soup.” If she sees me in the store, she asks now if she can help me find something. It is appreciated. I tell her so. And she knows better than to ask how I am.

The last time I bought chicken and rice soup was for my wife, Lee, She of blessed name, as my not-too-distant ancestors would say. The manager had to help me find it among the other shelves and rows of cans. It was something she craved when she had brain cancer. Funny, somehow, doing such ordinary things for someone so extraordinary. For someone soon to be gone. The sacred in the mundane.

One late night, I left the hospital. It was April. Or May. Don’t ask me much about time in the seven or nine month period. I went to Publix late. It was nearly closing. Or I got in just before and it was after closing. I had four items. One might have been a vegetable sub on whole wheat bread. It might have been a cookie and fried chicken. On some of those hospital nights I went for comfort food, letting myself off easy. I would have had three items, but off the discount shelf was a bottle of Jack and Coke for a buck ten. And why not?

I don’t drink. Well, barely. I don’t want not to feel. And I didn’t want to deaden anything of what I was feeling. Folks tried to get me to take something to sleep. A tranquilizer. No need to feel it all the time, they would tell me. No. I never wanted to not feel the hurt, the pain, the agony. The impending loss. The emptiness, helplessness, uselessness. I didn’t want to, don’t want to deaden or dampen, even temporarily, anything to do with Lee. But this night, drink and the new episode of Justified would do just fine. Seriously, what is better to drink with a Kentucky crime drama than a bottled bourbon and Coke?

I got to the check-out. A tall, young fellow was behind the counter. I put my items and one cloth bag on the belt.

“How are you?”

Oh, no… not on this, one of the worst of all nights. “Is that a pro-forma question or are you genuinely interested in the state of my health and general tenor of my life? Because if you are, I will tell you. If you are not, please don’t ask.” I have it down, you see.

He laughed. “No, seriously, how are you this evening?”

He seemed like a nice kid. I thought I’d let him off easily. “Seriously, you don’t want to ask that question tonight.”

“Things a little rough, huh?”

Ok, I’m getting annoyed. “I’m giving you an out, you know. A free pass. Seriously, please stop asking.”

He looks at me a little funny. That’s ok. If it gets me my four items and I get to go home for a few hours before heading back to the hospital, then he can look at me any way he wants. The last few nights I slept in the hospital in a chair next to her. I feel wrecked. I must look wrecked because she was worried about me and sent me home to sleep. I just want a few hours in my bed. Food, a little TV, bed.

Three items rung up. He picks up the Jack and Coke, hesitates before sliding it over the scanner. Then looks at the label a bit closer.

“Well, this’ll make it better.”

I had it. Tired. Late. Hungry. Wrecked and worse, really didn’t want to leave my wife in the hospital and have my, first?, maybe my first, night alone in the house. Maybe, certainly, one of many to come. One of a life-time of nights alone to come where she isn’t with me. After thirty years, not with me. Considering this, I think I handled myself well. I think I was nice. Really.

“No, I am pretty sure that will not make it better. I am pretty sure, whether I drink that or not, my wife will still die of brain cancer. And a little Jack and Coke won’t make that better. But it might make it so I can sleep tonight.”

He lost a bit of color in his face. His smile dropped. The jocularity disappeared. He just looked at me. And, slowly, said, “Sorry.” One word. And put the bottle in the bag.

“I gave you an out. I asked you not to ask.”

“Yes, you did.”

I hand him a twenty. He hands me change. I leave.

Some number of day later I am, again, checking out of Publix.

”How are you today?”

“Let me ask you a question. When you ask that, you don’t really want to know, right? I mean, you don’t really want each person, all day, to tell you how they are really doing, do you? Aren’t you just saying hello? Really, isn’t it just a more formal way of saying hello? Or saying, I see you. I recognize your presence here is important to me. Isn’t it more that?”

She stares at me.

I stare at her. And say, “Peek-a-boo.”

She blinks and smiles. Shakes her head slowly. Scans my items.

It is sort of like saying “namaste.” Translated loosely, it means “The divine in me recognizes the divine in you.” I see you there. My spark of the divine sees the same in you. And here we are, together.

Alan Watts used to talk about God playing Hide and Seek with itself. The divine breaks itself up into all these people to experience the thrill of finding itself again, anew, in all these bodies, aspects, places, ways. A game of fun and discovery. Watts used to drink quite a bit.

Very much like a game of Peek-a-boo. God hides from itself. Sees itself, is surprised, blinks. Smiles. Says, “There I am!” and goes off to do it again. Next. Next. Who will I see myself in next?

Peek-a-boo.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Culture, philosophy, Religion, Social

 

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Ashes

I still go to call you.
When the door opens
Rise, run to greet you.
So I took your number from the phone
and now look for it.
I lock the door,
So it won’t open unbidden
Expecting to see you.

We tossed your ashes to the river.
I stood downwind,
Poured them into my hand,
Threw them high.
They flecked across the moon,
They mixed with the new grey in my hair,
Covered my face.
I took a breath
Deep.
Your ashes
Taste of salt.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Family, Poetry, Religion, Social

 

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Cleaning Up

A poem for Lee. This is how it was SUPPOSED to go.

So what was there to do?
He was gone, and so
there was the cleaning up.
The dispersal of goods,
sorting and separating,
matching
memories and mementos.

But he was meticulous and
everything was in its place.
So there was very little of him
over which my hands could grieve.
Nothing to keep my mind company

until it was time to do the laundry.
I could have put it into a bag,
placed it in the garbage,
left it at a thrift store
dropped it in a fire
sent it heavenward.

Instead, I washed it all,
hanging shirts that once
took his form, carefully folding
underwear, one pair of the dungarees stained from kneeling in the garden,
shorts that once showed his knees,
knees stained by Earth and Clay.
Each put away, and when that was done,
there was nothing left
but the sorting and pairing of his socks.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2011 in Family, Poetry

 

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Yahrzeit

This, today, August 29th, 2010, is the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. Yahrzeit.

I could not write this. But I could say this. I dictated it and a friend, a good friend, for who else would do such a thing, typed it while I talked. He also made what edits and proofs were needed. He did this to save me the pain of a careful reading. Thanks, Craig.

I read it anyway.

I do not say this is what happened. What is here is truth but may not be fact. It is what I remember from two days that are hard to remember. I have added things as I recall them. Still, maybe I got something wrong. Maybe I got something backward. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe someone will be mad. Maybe they’ll get over it. Maybe they won’t.

It doesn’t matter.

• • • • •

My brother called me that Thursday and told me my mother was in the hospital, or that she was going into the hospital, I actually don’t quite remember which one. I said I would try to get down the next week or so, and he said he thought it was important I get down there in the next day and so. I left the next morning.

My mother had Parkinson’s Disease, had it for about fifteen years. For the last two years she’d had trouble speaking, and she seemed more and more trapped. She had brain surgery, which really didn’t work for much more than two or three weeks. I think she hadn’t walked in probably a good year.

So I called my daughter and asked Sef if I could stay with her overnight at her place. She was living in Deerfield Beach and my mother was in the hospital in Coral Springs, about twenty minutes away. I also asked if she would meet me at the hospital. And she said of course she would. So I drive down and I got there around 11, and Sef met me outside the hospital. And we walk in together. I think we met my brother on the way up to the room, or perhaps outside the room. Apparently my mother was not able to swallow anymore. I hadn’t seen her in, I think, about two months. I had called from time to time, but because she was unable to speak, she would try to speak on the phone but end up crying, so I alternately thought I should just call and not have her talk, or I should not call so as to not make her cry. So I probably didn’t call her as often as I might have. I certainly didn’t call her as often as I wanted to, because the crying was hard for both of us. She was such a dynamic person, it was harder to hear her not be able to speak than it was to see her not able to move.

So we went in to see her. My father had called the night before my brother did, and he said she had not been eating, and I forget what else he said, but he was considering taking her to the hospital. I suggested he take her right away—from his description she needed to be there—but he was wondering, vacillating. I believe it was my brother who finally convinced him to get her to the hospital.

Went in. She really looked very “shell-ish,” nearly unable to move, unable to eat because she couldn’t swallow. I went in, gave her a hug, Sef gave her a hug, I did my best to not cry and I didn’t. My father, of course, takes me outside immediately to talk to me “in secret”—he was always telling secrets, always took me aside to whisper things—”Your mother’s not doing well, you’re mother’s not this or that,” as if my father still thought she was 40 and playing croquet, as if it were to be a surprise to him that she’s sick. When he’d call and say she’s not getting better, I’d say, “What did you expect, this is what happens with Parkinson’s.” I think he was trying to hold on to her, but I found it frustrating. He would whisper it because he didn’t want her to hear.

So I sat with her, held her hand, Sef was on the other side, held her hand, talked to her. She made a few sounds here and there, she could move her eyes a little bit. Apparently a Swallow Test had been ordered—I’m not sure what the logistics of a Swallow Test are, I really don’t need to know—but they came and got her, wheeled her down, and before they wheeled her back up, I spoke with the nurse and asked what the plan was, what the possibilities were. If the Swallow Test came out well, she would be able to eat. If the test did not come out well, she would be unable to eat, and the only way she would be able to receive nutrition would be through a tube going through her side and into her stomach. But the Parkinson’s medications can only be administered orally. So it means the Parkinson’s would get worse and worse. So even that was not the best option. If she didn’t get the tube, she also wouldn’t get the medication. So IV feeding would be useless.

My brother’s wife, Amy, worked at the hospital as a pharmacist, so anything needing clarification was made clear, She explained that the Swallow Test indicated she couldn’t swallow. That even ice chips would very easily be aspirated. She was wheeled back into the room, put back in the bed, and my father pulls the nurse outside and around the corner—and by then a friend arrived, this guy I didn’t know—and my father asks the nurse the results of her test.

“Why don’t you ask in front of mommy?” I say.

The nurse cuts him off and says, “She has a right to know, and I will not discuss this with you unless she’s present.”

I thanked her, and we walked back into the room. The nurse addressed my mother directly. She told her that the Swallow Test indicated she was unable to swallow, would aspirate anything she tried to eat, was at risk for choking, that the Parkinson’s meds can only be given orally, had to be digested, so the only possibility was a PEG tube. And that was the only option.

So she asked, “Do you have a Living Will?”

And my father says, “No.” At that point my father and my brother get into an argument about why there is no Living Will. I don’t remember if it was me or my brother who asked him, “Did it never occur to you that this day would ever come?” My father was crying. Denial. This was no time to have an argument about why; the fact remained that they never discussed what she had wanted.

A long time ago, before she got sick—twenty years ago—my mother told me that if she ever got like my grandmother, unable to take care of herself, she “wanted to be shot.” I had to repeat this to the nurse, saying we had discussed this in the past, and she looks at my mother and says, “Is that true?”

And it’s the last whole word I can remember my mother saying: “Yes.”

And the nurse looked at me, and said, “That’s very clear.” And so she continued to ask her a few questions: “So that means you do not want a PEG tube?”

And again: “Yes.”

“You understand that means no nutrition, no food?”

“Yes.”

So I was standing behind the nurse at that point, so she could talk as close to my mother as possible, and my father asked what that means, and she said, “It means your wife does not want to be fed, and wants to allow this to take its natural course.”

And I’m watching my mother, and I think it was at that point that she realized she was going to die, that all the days she had left could now be counted on the fingers of one hand, and that was it. I saw her realization that she was about to die. And she just started to cry. And she just cried for quite a while. And people held her hand, and hugged her.

My brother kept saying to her, “It’s going to be all right, it’s going to be all right.”

My father kept saying, “Don’t worry, Sheil, don’t worry Sheil.”

I, on the other hand, went up to her, and said, “I don’t know why they’re telling you everything’s going to be all right. You know and I know what the truth is. You’ll be fine, but you won’t be here. Everybody loves you. You did good. Rest.” And I kissed her on the forehead. She stopped crying, and a few minutes later she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

My father had brought in a CD player, and he was playing Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole, John Denver. I think her hearing was perfect. No TV, just music the entire time. The nurse had left at some point to go get the social worker to have her come up and talk about her options. It was a small room. I guess there were four of us in the room, Amy would pop up from time to time, so five. And directly above her, not four feet above her head, a bank of fluorescent lights on the wall, and fluorescent lights on the ceiling above, and bells were dinging and people calling on the loudspeaker. It was not at all a restful room. So the social worker comes up and we go down the hall to talk—my mother was still sleeping and we needed out of the room for a while. I had Sef come with us because I actually depend on her sometimes to have a clear head when I don’t. The social worker wants to talk to us about hospice, which I think is a great idea, and the sooner the better. She couldn’t stay at the hospice in the hospital, because you can only stay there for three days, and starving to death can take up to two weeks. My father keeps saying he can’t afford hospice. The social workers keeps saying Medicare would take care of it. “My insurance won’t take care it.” “Medicare will take care of it completely,” back and forth.

She told him of Hospice by the Sea, which I have heard over and over is the best care anyone could ever want. He wants to see it first. He think it’s going to be dingy, old.

“Is it going to be worse than the room she’s in now, with the fluorescent lights and the loudspeaker?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Why don’t we go see it tomorrow morning?” he asks.

And my daughter asks him, “Why don’t you go see it NOW?”

“Well, everyone’s tired, maybe we should rest, see it tomorrow morning.”

My daughter insisted: “Why don’t you think of her? Get her out of that room, get her somewhere comfortable?”

I ask the social worker: “Can we do it tonight?”

“Yes.”

Father didn’t know if he’ll like it, didn’t know if he could afford it. Don’t remember my brother saying much, but he probably did.

I asked my father, “What are your choices? Look at your choices. She can’t stay her more than three days. You cannot bring her home. This is her only choice. If you like it when you see it, if you don’t like it when you see it, if it’s a palace or a dungeon, this is your only choice. Why are you putting it off?”

I looked at the social worker and she said, “He’s right, this is all you can do.”

And so arrangements were made to bring her to Hospice by the Sea that evening. It was a Friday evening. So he wants to go there first to see what it was like. I look at the social worker and said, “Let’s get her ready to go, we’ll get the papers signed, we’ll go to Hospice by the Sea first and be there when she arrives.” I ask my father if that works for him, and it does.

In moments here and there, my daughter keeps asking me, “What did he think was going to happen? What did he think his other choices were?” In the meantime, she had called in to take off work for the evening. She told them she thought she might have to take off the next day or two . She could not afford to do this, but she did it anyway.

So I went back into the room to see her, got the papers signed, and got ourselves over to Hospice by the Sea. And my father is starting to fret: “I can’t do this, I can’t let her starve, what am I going to do?”

We get there and the place is absolutely gorgeous. It’s quiet, she has a large room, could have had a party in her room. This is the idea behind the design—everyone can come to be with the person who’s dying. We open up the doors in front of the room, and everything is built around this garden with beautiful tropical foliage.

I know at some point we ate, don’t remember when, don’t remember what. My mother gets there around 11:00 at night, and they bring her in to the room. My father asks for a cot, and they bring him a rollaway bed so he can sleep right next to her, and he goes to find the nurse in charge. And he is beginning to panic. I don’t want to say he’s not rational, but he’s walking around nearly hand-wringing: “I can’t let her starve, I can’t do this to her, I can’t watch her starve, I can’t starve her to death!” There wasn’t much that we could do to calm him down. The nurse explained that she couldn’t eat anything, and she also wouldn’t be able to drink anything. You can go twenty-one days or longer without food, but you can’t go that long without water, and they expected her go to within seven to ten days. I asked about IV fluids. She explained that she couldn’t do that, because as you die, your body doesn’t process fluids properly, and that means no fluids.

My father is crying, as you might expect; I’m not handling this well either, but I’m the one who has to. When my maternal grandmother died, despite the fact that my father and she hated one another, he fell apart, and I had to handle everything. Despite the fact that my second child had just been born, and I was out of work, evicted, and had moved back to south Florida to look for work, living in a storage room, instead I had to handle funeral arrangements. My family doesn’t handle this death business very well.

We talk to the nurse, and we decided they would settle down for the night, go to sleep, and we would be back in the morning. Just before we leave my mother starts making noises like she’s hungry. This just makes my father more upset. And none of us knows what to do; there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. My father is asking if there’s some way we can feed her. The nurse tells him that they can try feeding her—if she wants. But the likelihood is that she will choke. And their recommendation is that would not be the best thing. Let her go to sleep, let her rest.

So I go back to my daughter’s apartment with her and settle myself down on the couch, and it’s too short for me, which is really saying something. It’s about 1:00 in the morning, I think.

I’m not going to be able to sleep anyway, so I decide to talk to my mother, me on the couch in my daughter’s apartment, my mother in her room in the hospice. About two weeks prior I had gotten a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and had started memorizing it. I had no reason to do this; I don’t like memorizing things. And so I decided to recite the first paragraph to my mother, first as it was written, and then departing from it, paraphrasing:

O nobly-born, that which is called death hath now come. Thou art departing from this world, but thou art not the only one; death cometh to all. Do not cling, in fondness and weakness, to this life. Even though thou clingest out of weakness, thou hast not the power to remain here….Be not attached to this world.

O nobly-born, what which is death has come to you. You are leaving this world. Do not hold on. Let go. Rest. O nobly-born, death is coming to you. You are leaving this world. Rest.

I kept saying it again and again and again to my mother. And then I said to her, “Please don’t do this to Daddy. You know he can’t handle this. He can’t watch you starve to death. Please just rest, and don’t do this to him.”

At some point I fell asleep saying this. And then I hear a phone ring. It’s my daughter’s cell phone. And know what the call is. Sef comes out of the bedroom, walks over to me and says, “Dad, Grandma died.”

And I said, “I know.”

I was curious why my father called my daughter instead of me. He insists he called me, but Adam and Sef are nowhere close on his cellphone address list. It was five minutes before six. We got up, got dressed, not slowly but not quickly—we were both exhausted and feeling a little spacey.

Sef drove to Hospice by the Sea, we stopped on the way for coffee at a Dunkin Donuts, we needed something—protein, milk, something, because Lord knows when we’d be eating again. Five minutes later were were at the hospice. My brother was already there. My father was by my mother. He was standing over her saying, “I only left her for a half hour.” He was beside himself—he had gone home for some clothes and some food.

And I saw my mother. And the first thing that occurred to me is that she looked like a dried fish. There was nothing there. Empty. Gone. My father kept stroking her forehead, kissing her forehead, telling her, “It’s going to be all right, it’s going to be all right, this is not how it was supposed to go, we were supposed to go together,” on and on and on, telling her she was beautiful, telling her she would going to be all right. I imagine he was telling himself that, but I really don’t think he believed it. We—my brother, daughter and I—went to speak to the nurse. She told us that she really didn’t understand it. A few minutes after my father left, my mother started aspirating liquid, that her body had stopped processing fluids completely. The nurse said she couldn’t suction out her mouth fast enough, and that her heart congested and she simply died. She kept suctioning out her mouth to make her as comfortable as she could, and it took about fifteen minutes. She died about five minutes before my father got back. The nurse said she had never seen someone in this state go so quickly; it should have taken at least three days, minimum, probably five to seven. She really did not understand.

I told her I did.

And that was Saturday morning.

I know we had to get my father to eat; I’m not sure where we went or what we did. I think my brother took my father out while we waited with the body. My daughter and I waited because someone had to be there with the body until someone came to claim her, and that way we could give each other periodic breaks. Good thing we stopped to get her coffee; that had been my daughter’s idea, and she’s always right.

The funeral home arrived for the body around 9:30 in the morning, a very large man in a suit. I was supposed to make sure she was going to the right funeral home—my father was worried—so he could get the right dress to her; I was supposed to give the man a ring that he could put on her finger. So he’s wrapping her up, in the shroud first, and up to this point I have not cried. As soon as he put the cloth over her face, that was it: I started crying. He puts her in the body bag, and wheels her out.

I went and thanked everyone at the hospice. They told me they were worried about my father, and wanted to make sure he was getting care. I said I rather doubted that he would. He had spent fifteen years taking care of her. There were times when we were not sure whether he was doing a good job or not, but how were we to know, and what could we do? We tried making him get respite care, but he said he couldn’t afford it, yet he never checked with Medicare. We tried getting him support care for himself, but he wouldn’t’ do it. At the hospital we were told that my mother was in wonderful shape. They rarely see people at her stage so well taken care of, and the job he did taking care of her was, in the nurse’s words, “heroic.” But I seriously doubt that he’d get any care for himself at this point.

My daughter insists we go back to the apartment, shower, eat breakfast. She takes me to Flakowitz of Boyton, a rather famous deli and restaurant. It’s crowded, a Saturday morning, she says the place is good. I fret about not being able to find food that’s good for me. She tells me, “Eat what you want, your mother just died!”

I said, “You mean, I can have comfort food?”

She tells me to shut up and get what I want. I don’t remember what I got, but I remember it was really good.

As I eat, it dawns on me. I am a motherless child. I say this out loud. Sef nods. I say, “This will take some getting used to. I wonder how long.”

“It’s only been a few hours,” she says. She wishes she knew her grandmother when she was able. She became sick when she was ten. She didn’t know her when she hiked, rode bikes, prospected for precious stones, played croquette, gardened, painted, did woodwork. When Sef knew her, she was barely still able to crochet.

My son does not know her without a wheelchair, barely able to speak.

I think we were meeting with the rabbi around 1 at the Funeral Home of Lantana, about 20 minutes north of there. It was Shabbos, which means my mother could not be buried that day. It’s Jewish tradition to bury the dead within 24 hours unless it’s Shabbos, in which case it’s two days. At some point that morning I called my wife, Lee, and let her know. She had known my mother for about thirty years, so it was more than just her mother-in-law having died. She said she would throw some clothing in a bag for me, something appropriate for a funeral, and she would rent a car and come down, and she’d be there sometime that afternoon. We had only one car at that point.

We all met with the rabbi, and I instantly liked this fellow. He wanted us to write down things about my mother, things he should mention, things her friends would know, things he should know; he wanted us to treat him as though he would have been her friend. He made sure he pronounced her name properly, what she would want to be called, what she would want people to know. Then there was the matter of planning the funeral day. It was Saturday, the funeral would have to be Monday.

“Why not Sunday?” I asked.

“We can’t get the grave dug by then.”

“Why not?”

“We don’t have gravediggers on Saturday. We’d have to pay them time-and-a-half.”

In Jewish tradition, someone has to sit with the body continually until it is buried and say prayers over it, and that’s a paid position, a shomer. We’d have to pay a shomer to sit for two days. I ask the rabbi how much that would be. He gave us the figure. I ask him how much time-and-a-half for gravediggers would be. There was a ten-dollar difference in cost, about $250 more one way or the other. So I suggested we simply ask the gravediggers to come in and work some overtime, and spare some old Jew who didn’t know my mother from sitting with her and saying prayers over her. So that was settled.

We met my wife and my son Alek at the Ft. Lauderdale airport where the car had to be turned in, and we went to get a hotel room. I wanted an inexpensive hotel room; my wife wanted a nice one. We ended up at Embassy Suites. Why? “Because,” my wife said. “Because your mother just died!”

That week my father-in law went into the hospital for a cardiac catheterization. I think that was it. But he was surprisingly blocked, especially considering the excellent care he takes of himself including his diet. He ended up in surgery and was, understandably unsettled. Lee needed to see him. It was bad timing, to be sure, but it was what it was. I could not stand to be by myself so I went to Pembroke Pines with my wife and kids to see my in-laws.

My mother-in law hugged me, asked if I was ok, did her best to be kind. I was exhausted and sat. My father-in-law wanted to talk and did so. He talked to me for nearly three hours straight. I dozed, woke, nodded, listened, dozed. He talked as though nothing different had happened to me today. As though today, for me, was nothing of note, was any other day.

We left. Lee commented on how good I was. I would normally have brushed a compliment aside. Not this time. I agreed. Yes. I was. Better than could be expected. Better than was reasonable. Above and beyond. Lee squeezed my hand and we headed back to Deerfield Beach.

That evening, we ate dinner—the whole family was together—and I watched how differently people handled the obviously empty space. There was an empty seat next to my father. I thought it needed to be empty for a while; my brother wanted me to move over and fill it. We sat there for a long time; I don’t remember what we talked about.

I feel crooked. I feel unbalanced. Like one shoulder has a weight the other does not. Like one ear is sensing movement differently than the other. A part of me that has been around for 45 years, that my brain has developed knowing was there, is suddenly gone. It does not feel right. The world does not feel right. It is lopsided. I no longer have two parents. I have one. Something is missing. I wonder how long this will last.

Back to the hotel room. Lee drags me down to the pool and the hot tub. We walk on the beach for a while, then go to the hot tub. A blazered gentleman came over and said the hot tub is closed, it’s past midnight. She tells him he really needs to sit in the hot tub tonight. He says, “But the rules say the hot tub closes at 11.” She tells him my mother just died. He said, “Stay as long as you want.” At some point she also got two gin and tonics down me, which is one-and-a-half more than I usually drink.

The funeral was set for 11. I had called my oldest friend, Carol, to let her know. She knows me since I’m 13 or 14; she insisted on coming to the funeral. I don’t remember who else I called. The next morning I’m getting dressed. I pull out the pants and they are not mine. Apparently my wife brought a pair of her black pants, a drawstring number, pleated, which looked very nice—on her. It’s Sunday morning; my father wears a size 42, so nothing he has will fit me; my brother is six feet tall, nothing of his will fit me. Lee’s pants do fit. So I wear the cute little drawstring number. I pull out the shirt. It is a black silk shirt. I figure if I wear this shirt, I will melt off at least half a dozen pounds before the funeral is over. I go to put on the shoes. They are my seventeen-year-old son’s skater shoes. But they fit me. So I am not quite dressed in the manner one would generally assume a son should dress for a funeral.

We headed to the funeral, which was held at the cemetery. We start at the chapel. This is the same cemetery where my father’s mother is buried. The couples are buried one on top of each other. There are four spots, each for a couple, so it’s a two-story underground concrete sealed horror. The caskets are lowered, then a concrete slab is lowered on top of that, then the marble lowered on top of that. Originally my father and my mother were supposed to be next to his mother and father, but my mother insisted she wanted to be at the other end of the grave “condos.” Those who have read “Funeral, Expurgated” will understand why.

People start arriving. Some are crying, many are in wheelchairs. They were very involved in Americans with Disabilities Act activities. I don’t remember a lot about the funeral except that I felt terribly self-conscious about what I was wearing. Carol, my oldest friend, found me and hugged me, and we went off and talked for a while, she and myself and Lee.

At some point my father went to the casket, and opened it up to look at her. He asked me if I wanted to. I said I didn’t think I could.

Then we were told it was time to take our seats. My father, brother, and I were in the first row; Carol sat behind me; Lee, Sef, and Alek sat behind her. It was a bit of a wait, maybe five minutes, for the funeral to start. I leaned back and said to Carol, “These pants are chafing a bit, but I look so cute in them! Leave it to me to get into my wife’s pants at my mother’s funeral!” She starts laughing. A few other people laughed. A few people did not find it funny. I’m sure, however, that my mother would have, and I was fine with that.

Carol knew the rabbi, said he was a perfect choice, and indeed he was. He did a wonderful job, though I don’t remember any of the details. You would think he had known her. He was splendid. The rabbi asked if anyone would like to speak. I raised my hand. Later my brother would tell me, “I knew you wouldn’t be able to not speak,” and I said, “I knew you wouldn’t be able to, so I figured I would.”

I told everyone that I had learned my sense of morals from her, and if that’s all she’d ever taught me, it would have been enough. I said that the last thing I had told my mother was that everyone loved her, that she did good, and that it was time to rest. I don’t think I spoke for more than a minute. We moved out to the graveside. I immediately went to the casket to help roll it to the grave. “You don’t have to,” I was told. But of course I did. I literally buried my grandmother; I would certainly have done the same thing for my mother, if I could have. The least I could do was help push the casket out to the grave.

One of the four graveworkers stands aside so I can help roll the casket out. Even the grave workers are dressed better than I am. It’s a long walk from the chapel to the grave, and it’s August 30th in South Florida in a treeless cemetery. I am wearing a black silk shirt, black linen pants, black suede shoes, and it’s a loooooong walk to the grave. I don’t remember what was said at graveside; I know that Kaddish was said. I know that other prayers were said. There was a canopy with some chairs set for people; I stood by the grave the entire time. I’m glad I had the best all day walking shoes – or my toes would’ve gone totally numb after that superlong hike.

And then the funeral was over. The casket was ready to be lowered into the grave, which is done by machine (this is not how most Jewish funeral go), and I had my hand on the casket as far down as I could—I’d have preferred lowering it by ropes myself, but that wasn’t available; I think we definitely lose something by having all this stuff mechanized. We were given little plastic baggies of dirt, about the size of two ketchup packets, to throw on to the casket. I wanted a shovel and a pile of dirt, and what I got were tiny baggies. I wanted to bury her and all I could throw in was a teaspoon of dirt, so I grabbed all that I could find—it didn’t matter if anyone else had any.

We were then told that it was time to leave, because it was time to bring in the backhoe to load in the concrete that would be lowered halfway down the condo so it would be covering my mother’s casket. The canopy had to go. The plywood on which the seats sat had to be moved so the backhoe wouldn’t eat up the grass.

And I told them: “No.” Very matter of fact. No. I was going to help, until it was completely sealed. I told the rabbi, “I don’t get a shovel, I don’t get any dirt, but I’m going to damn well see this thing sealed.” He said he understood.

The first piece of concrete had a bolt hole in each corner. Large eyes were screwed into each, chains attached to those, the four chains attached to a hook on the backhoe. It was picked up moved, positioned, lowered. And I stood there, a little too close for safety, until I could catch the last glimpse of the coffin as the slab covered it. Then one of the workers had to jump in and unscrew the bolts and take the chains off. Lee wisely kept me from doing that; I was very bothered by someone I didn’t know jumping into my mother’s grave, silly me.

Then came the second concrete slab to cover the top half of the two-story grave. Same process. I helped unscrew the bolts and take off the chains, since this was just below ground level and I could reach it. Then the same process for the marble grave top. It’s positioned into place with my hand on it. I helped take off the chains, unscrew the eyes. And then the workers come over with a bolt and a large brass washer, and that is screwed on, attaching it to the concrete grave box.

I said to one of the workers, “Mind if I do that?”

And he says, “You’re not supposed to.”

And I said to him, an older black fellow, “If this was your mom, and you had no shovel and no dirt, what would you do?”

He said, “I would hand you the bolts and hand you the wrench and say, “There you go.'” And he did. And I thanked him for understanding. And I screwed my mother’s grave closed.

That afternoon we—family, extended family, friends— went back to my brother’s house. Amy had gone ahead, picked up platters of sandwiches and desserts. And we talked. I changed into normal clothes that were actually mine. I met the son of my mother’s oldest friend. My father’s brother came down. I sat with Amy and said that I would prefer that we manage to get together under circumstances other than this from time to time, that it would be nice. We were there about two hours before we left. Everyone needed rest. Lee and I and the kids headed to Carol’s house. She had made us macaroni and cheese, and other assorted things we shouldn’t eat, and we sat and talked. I needed that comfort after this weekend. Next to Lee, she’s the person I’ve known the longest. Sometime around 6 we left and drove home, less than a two-hour drive. I drove down with a mother. I drive home without one.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2010 in Culture, Family, Religion, Social

 

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From my Daughter, on the passing of my Mother

I have never posted anything on this blog by anyone else. This is the first.

When my father announced he had a girlfriend, we were happy for him. He is out and living again. He spent so long in the heroic effort of keeping my mother as safe as could be, as happy as could be, as well as could be. Who could deny him? For so long he watched her slip away to become less, less, less. Who can judge him?

Yet, for some, for many, it seems too soon. It is not quite six months since my mother’s death.

This is by my daughter, Sef Rachel Tritt, who wishes she knew the woman I did and had that woman as her grandmother. She wrote this upon my father’s announcement.

I still see her face:
eyes clear, staring up,
mouth open,
peaceful,
no fear.
She waited till she was
alone,
a rare moment.
He would not leave her side.
He refused.
He loved her—
too much, perhaps.
Still does.

I still see her face.
When I close my eyes
she is there.
Her eyes, once so blue,
are gray,
wide open but do not see.
Could not see me,
could not see him
crying for the emptiness she left.
Does he see her face
as I see her,
pale and cold?

I still see her face
when I think about death.
She waited.
I told her I loved her.
So did he,
again and again.
I went on my way
expecting to see her in the morning,
alive.
But now when I remember her,
I see her face,
stiff,
like a stone,
when I close my eyes.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2010 in Family, Poetry

 

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