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10 posts from June 2008

Digit's 1st ResurectiversaryJune 29, 2008

Digit is still alive.

   

Can you believe it's been a year, two days ago? First, he died. Then, three months later, I got schmittens. Then he came back from the dead. After that, there was a raffle that put him back together again.

This cat, he is still my man. My main squeeze. We still sleep paw-in-paw at night, or at least until 3am when he gets crotchety and wants to go on the front porch.

He still lives inside, you know. I determined I would try to keep him in as long as possible, but I didn't think he'd put up with it for very long. But honestly, I think during that long trip away from home and four months of walking home, he saw all the world he wanted to. He makes cursory breaks for freedom: a few nights ago, the night I got home from the memorial, I woke at 3am to the smell of smoke. I thought it was coming in from outside, from the fires up north, but I wasn't sure, so I checked the back yard. Then I stood in the open front door, thinking Digit was still behind me, and I sniffed for a few seconds. Yes, drift smoke, and oh, crap! Digit! I chased him, and then called for him, and he was gone. I went back to bed, bereft, thinking Digit was going to go follow Mom, his other person. Lala made me get up one more time to check for him (I found out later she only pushed it because she knew she would get up to look for him some more if I didn't, and she really didn't want to get up). I took the dry food onto the front sunporch, rattled the jar, and he came RUNNING inside. Big old faker. He wants to be inside. With us. Yep.

We were going to post that video up there with the tune of "I Will Always Love You," sung by Dolly. I was going to make some of it slow motion, maybe some of it fading to sepia. A long, longing look at the end. But the computer didn't cooperate. So imagine the song. Raise your lighter or your cellphone. And sing along.....

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A DiscussionJune 28, 2008

I said, "What if we get married at the Oakland City Clerk's office? I saw a picture of Kira and Rachel's ceremony they had there yesterday, and there's a wedding-ring quilt hanging behind them. So it can't be all that sterile."

Lala said, "Sounds good."

"And then, what if we walk over to Baggy's? To have a drink-up after with all our friends? You know, nice and circular, the place where we had our first date....."

"That sounds great."

"Really?"

"I always have fun marrying you," she said.

No date set yet, but I'll keep you posted. Love is good stuff. Happy Pride.

Matt is DancingJune 25, 2008

It's the most watched video on the internet right now (and only went up four days ago), but if you've missed it, please go watch Matt dance. I'd embed it here, but you should watch it in high quality (button below the main box on youtube) and in full-screen. I don't think it's just because I'm overly emotional that I bawled while watching it.

It's beautiful. Enjoy.

Absolute and Unbroken ContinuityJune 23, 2008

The memorial for Mom was so hard. But it was pretty great, too. The church was full of people, many of whom I didn't even recognize. Others I knew by sight, but would never have been able to put a name to. I was way more emotional than I thought I'd be -- I thought I'd gone through the range of emotions and had sorted the first bits of stuff out, but I almost wasn't able to read the Henry Scott Holland piece that I wanted to. I know how to project, but my voice shook, and I hated that. I wanted to be clear and strong. My father closed with his eulogy, and I swear there wasn't a dry eye in the house. The church was quiet as he started, but the sniffs started to ripple as he spoke about his best friend, his wife.

It just kilt us all.

[An aside - this is my new gift to the environment: Handkerchiefs. I've been using them all month, and there have been a LOT of dribbly nose blows. Allergies and grief is an ugly combination. I always thought using a handkerchief would be gross, but as it turns out, it's comforting in a way that Kleenex never could be. If you think you have to blow a lot, carry two, but one is really enough. I keep one in my pocket, use it when I need it, and I wash the used ones with my clothes. If I forget one in a pocket, no biggee. No Kleenex bits all through the dryer. And I am Kleenex crazy -- used to be OBSESSED with always having a box near me. One in every room. Now I'm not. Saving the world, one little piece of paper at a time.] [See? I mitigated that last sad bit with a soapbox bit. Whew.]

Then we went to the parents' house (I should move that apostrophe, but I don't want to), where we held a lovely cross between a reception and a wake. It was a potluck musical gathering. People brought food and instruments, and we set up chairs all throughout the huge backyard. Groups of people gathered in small clumps -- older men talking about wars they'd fought in, older women talking about church/book matters, the old-time musicians playing serious fiddle tunes in one area, kids smearing themselves with dirt and strawberry juice in another.

Later, we non-serious musicians kicked the serious ones out by joining the music circle with our ukuleles (okay, MY ukulele) and a particular fiddle-tune-killing request. If you know an old-time musician, just try it. Demand a Kingston Trio song. A the mention of the Kingston Trio, it is truly hysterical to watch them remember their pots on their stoves as they scramble backwards like crabs, reaching for their gig bags. So we musicians who like lyrics took over the song-circle and we sang every Kingston Trio, Woody/Arlo Guthrie, John Hartford, Pete Seeger song we could think of, throwing in all the lyrics we could remember, sprinkled with a good dose of "bah-di-bah-blooo-bahs" when words failed us. We sang our family anthem, the Washing Machine song, twice, once in our circle, and once in the room where my sister Christy was lying. She liked that.

Christy'd been feeling really ill the whole day. She was a trouper that morning, vacuuming and cleaning, setting things up, and she made it to the church, and walked around the reception, smiling when people hugged her, even though she felt so sick. Then she took to bed, letting the party swirl out in the main room. And later woke up WITH APPENDICITIS! She had to have her appendix out yesterday morning. Seriously, how much does your day blow, if you memorialize your beloved mother and then have to go for immediate surgery? Dude. She's due to be released this morning. Our poor thing.

Some pictures. Just because I want them here.

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Lala is cute; I might be a little manic here.

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Dad's the one in black, La's got her back to us.

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Gaynelle, part of our family.

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One of the more serious circles

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Babies and beer!

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Father-in-law Tony Hulse (he and mom-in-law Jeannie came all the way out from Boise!) and my Dad. Little sister Bethany sticks out her tongue like Dad does when she's concentrating.

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Lala's pride and joy: the 1957 Gibson her dad gave her last year for her birthday.

For Mom:

  Death is nothing at all. It does not count. 
   I have only slipped away into the next room.
      Nothing has happened.
        Everything remains exactly as it was.
          I am I, and you are you, and the old life
            that we lived so fondly together is untouched,
              unchanged.
           Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
          Call me by the old familiar name.
       Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
    Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes
  that we enjoyed together.   
   Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
     Let my name be ever the household word
       that it always was.
        Let it be spoken without an effort,
          without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
           Life means all that it ever meant.
           It is the same as it ever was.
        There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
      What is this death but a negligible accident?
    Why should I be out of mind
   because I am out of sight?
    I am but waiting for you,
      for an interval,
        somewhere very near,
         just round the corner.
           All is well.

Henry Scott Holland

One Week LaterJune 19, 2008

You are darlings. Thank you for your kind emails -- they mean the world to me. They ARE hard to read sometimes, though, because you're SO nice, so you understand why I closed comments on that last post. Would have made it too easy for you to be kind, and I just couldn't bear all that. The emails were wonderful, though.

It sucks. That's what it comes down to. It just sucks. I've hit a point where I have decided bed is the best place to be. The memorial is this Saturday, and I have to go back to work in another week, and I'm looking forward to rejoining the human race. However, for now, while work is paying me to be bereaved (a civilized idea, really), I am lying in bed all day, knitting and watching ANTM and Brothers & Sisters on the computer. Brothers & Sisters, a fine show, is very hard to find illegally on the internet, so hard that I have LEARNED HOW TO TYPE IT IN CHINESE. Or at least, I've figured out what it looks like and then I have copied and pasted it into Chinese TV sites, and voila! There my season 2 episodes are! Free of charge, subtitled in Chinese. A valuable talent, I know.

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED THROUGH ALL THIS:

1. Family is all-important, and I have the best one. I hope you think I'm wrong, that yours is the best, but I'm not wrong. Even missing the sun of our solar system, the planets are still spinning (I almost minored in astronomy -- I understand the physical implications of that and I'm ignoring them for the sake of the metaphor) and there is much, much love. So proud of them.

2. Sorrow does not preclude joy. That one's a shock -- I didn't expect to laugh on the very day she died, let alone every day since. I'd been so lucky that I'd never suffered a major loss until I was 35. But I thought when it happened it would change me, make me into a sorrowful person. No. It's made me sad, and at the moment, depressed and lethargic and only able to identify with stupid TV, but I'm still me, and I still take delight in the same things I always have. They just have a low-pitched humming underneath. Salted caramel ice cream is still so good I want to cry, only now sometimes I do.

3. Greeting cards. Let's talk. This is something I didn't know, and it seems so obvious, but Lala says she didn't know it either, so maybe you don't. Now, I'm only talking greeting cards, not the lovely emails and comments I've received from you, my readers. Internet notes to friends online who have lost a loved one (or are going to) -- you've done everything right. Even the ones earlier that didn't quite understand Mom was dying (and how could you? I was vague on the point for a while), those made me feel loved.

But the mailed cards. Oy. It got to a point where we screened every card, and only read Mom the good ones, or left out the maudlin words as we read. We stuck the other ones up on the wall, but only after we showed them to each other and rolled our eyes. So many wonderfully-intentioned people wrote treacly cards, invoking the Lord's mercy, telling Mom to Feel Better! The Lord has a plan! Get Well Soon! Listen, if the family has invoked the word Hospice, the patient WILL NOT GET BETTER. You telling us miracles happen in a Hallmark font does not make us (or her) feel better, it pisses us off.

You know what helps? A card, written by hand, remembering things. One of my aunts wrote, "I remember when Danny brought you home. You were so beautiful, and you both sat on the porch and sang the washing-machine song, and the shearing song." Another friend from New Zealand wrote, remembering Mom's "beautifully fringed eyes and abundant hair," and the fact that no matter how hard she studied, she could never catch up with Mom, always head of the class (natch).

Mom loved this kind of card, called them the most Christian of the bunch, and smiled when they were read to her. And we loved getting them, hearing about her, people remembering specific, wonderful things about her.

So when you write these sympathy cards, if the person is on hospice, just recall the good things, the things that make that person unique and special. Send them love.  Later, to the family, write more memories, of funny things that happened, or things specific to a time and a place and a person. People will be so grateful. We were.

4. Wacky Hijinks! Lala does everything she can to cheer me up, including what she did at 3am this morning (which was exactly one week to the hour since Mom died, but I didn't realize that then).

She normally sleeps like a rock, so it startled me when she sat straight up in the dark. She said, in an  alarmed voice, "UH-OH!"

I sat up with her and said, "What is it?"

She said, extremely worried, almost panicked, "I can't see!"

I reached behind me and turned on the light.

"Oh!" Ultimate relief in her voice. "Wow!"

I laughed so hard that I had to put my head down, but apparently that sounded like crying, which confused her, and then her look of confusion slayed me even more. Good stuff. She doesn't remember a bit of it this morning.

5-100. I have learned way more than this. But I'm done typing. Valuable ANTM time is slipping away as I write....

My Little MamaJune 12, 2008

My little mama died this morning, peacefully. It has been a beautiful day, and the hardest day I've ever known.

We were so lucky.

And I am so unbearably sad.

Oh, My ChickensJune 9, 2008

Mom ain't doing so well. This whole bringing-her-home to die thing is on one hand:

a) Perhaps the single hardest thing I've ever been part of. It's at once heart-wrenching and soul-gratifying to be the people who keep her comfortable, even though it's at the expense of her being able to communicate clearly with us. No. That's overstating it. That's just what it feels likes. A couple of days ago, she could handle this dosage and still be clear sometimes. Those were really good moments. Today, between hits of morphine, she was agitated and frustrated, unable to move the way she wants to, unable to make herself understood. But then she drifts back into sleep and appears peaceful. It's hard and scary and sad and painful.

On the other hand, it's:

b) Perhaps the single best thing I've ever been part of. I am inordinately proud of the people that comprise my family. Christy handles every part of the logging and charting of everything that's happened/been given with brains and cheer, and the tone in her voice as she talks to Mom is one of the most loving things I've ever heard. Bethany, who seems to always be there for the worst moments, is grace personified, very like her mother. Bethy rolls with every punch, and keeps a clear head even through tears. Dad is holding up admirably, and I love the way he kisses her hello and goodbye, just like always. Mom likes that, too.

We are a team. A really good, cohesive, united team, and if we had a chant, it would be Give me an N! Give me an O! No Pain! No Pain! Mom says, "Give me dope," and we give it to her. When she can't say it, but looks it, we give it to her. And then we have our dinner in dribs and drabs, as we are able to, and someone sleeps next to her and the next day we start it all over again. How do people do it without this kind of team? I am honored and blessed to be able to be here (paid leave and kind employers make all the difference in the world, too). I am so lucky to have this time. We've told her over and over how loved she is, and how she's the best mom in the world. How lucky we are to be able to do this. I've heard from people all week who didn't get this chance, and we don't take it for granted, not for a second.

So if I'm not around for a bit, don't worry. The Herrons are busy being the best family they can be.

Ridin'June 6, 2008

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La just sent me this picture from her phone -- she's one day from the end of the ride, somewhere north of Ventura.

On Wednesday, the AIDS Lifecycle came close to where I am, so I got to go out and find Lala. I spent two hours at the lunch site, cheering SO MANY riders in, and ohmygod, did I get so sunburned. I got sunburned like I ain't been sunburned in a long time. I am a tomato.

Lunch was held at the Cuesta College campus. So strange: 17 years ago, I was a student there. Okay, wait. There's something majorly wrong with that sentence. I need to do some math. I majored in English. Hang on.

Seventeen YEARS? That means when I went to community college, I could have had a child, and by now, I could BE A GRANDMOTHER by the child I had when I was in college. I'm thirty-five. Good god.

I think Lala and her Forty-Woes are rubbing off on me.

Anyway. Before I got my Bachelor's, way before I got my Master's, I went to Cuesta. I don't think I ever received an Associate's from them -- I was just marking time. I knew I wasn't ready to leave home, not ready to leave Mom. I turned down partial- and full-ride scholarships to good schools so I could sing vocal jazz and act in a community college's musical theatre department. I still lived at home, so I had this wonderful, gorgeous, long drive out through the country behind San Luis Obispo, out to school. I loved everything about those drives -- the hills, the valleys, the wildflowers, the old monastery you pass up on a hill and if you were really lucky, you could sometimes see a brown-cassocked monk getting out of his truck, picking up the mail. The wild mustard was my favorite out there -- when it's in bloom, it looks like sunshine, even in the fog of the coast.

I used to drive out there, every day, thinking about my future life, about boys, about girls, about writing. Never, ever, ever did I think I'd be driving out there on a June morning, my mother in a bed somewhere behind me, my wife on a bike somewhere in front of me.

As I drove down the two-lane road out there in the hills, the first super-speedy riders had already finished lunch and were headed out. It made me cry to see them. I honked (gently, and from the other side of the road so as not to scare them) and cheered out my window.

Then I got to the lunch area, and cheered my lungs out. I went hoarse. I started to turn red in the sun (but didn't know it). Lala came in and I got to have lunch with her. She's SUCH a trouper. Other people were hobbling, and god knows I would have been crippled for life, but she was just walking around like riding a bike for a week is normal and not crazy like snorting-Elmer's-glue-crazy.

I put her back on the road after lunch and leap-frogged ahead. I pulled over in Shell Beach, at Dinosaur Cave, a place we played a lot as children (and then in high school, come to think of it -- sneaking down into the blowhole from the cliff-top -- dangerous, so therefore thrilling). At first, it felt strange, standing on the side of the road, alone, cheering for the riders who filed by me, so close we could slap palms if we wanted to (I didn't want to: I have no depth perception and would probably knock one off his bike on accident). But then I started to get the hang of it.

There are two ways to do it: Clap politely but loudly, and as he or she passes in front you, nod, and say in a regular voice, "Nice job." "Looking great." "You're amazing." "You rule." "Keep it up." They grin and thank you back. Sometimes there's a moment of real connection that's pretty magical.

The other way is better when they come up to you in a clump: When they start to get close, start cheering, whooping and hollering, punching the air with your fist, even though you're standing there alone on the road. This gets them pumped up, so they all start to whoop, and then this loud hollering mass of bikes goes past, and you did that, you got them excited again, got them to forget their tiredness for just a minute.

Bethany got there to cheer with me, carrying a sign Christy made, and it suddenly got easier. Two people cheering looks like two people cheering. One person cheering can just look like she might have forgotten her tinfoil hat at home.

We cheered for a while. Then, I forget how it happened, but between riders we admitted that we kept forgetting that this was the AIDS ride, not the Multiple Myeloma ride. We'd been so completely invested in being with Mom all the time -- Mom was everything we were thinking about. To move from tiptoeing around the house to cheering outside in the sun, it was almost too overwhelming. And we were cheering for the riders, for the stand THEY were making against a disease that like cancer, takes too many, too young. Made my heart almost burst out of my chest.

Then we found Lala! We surprised her; she knew I'd be at lunch, but I hadn't told her I'd see her later in the day.

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Look at her! All ride-ified. You should see the farmer's tan she's sporting now. Time for a hug and a kiss and a bit of chat, and then she was back at it:

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I get to go pick her up in LA tomorrow! I'm so excited, and I can't wait for the closing ceremonies. Then we'll be driving back up to Mom's, where Lala will continue on with the car and leave me behind. We're going to have a little birthday party for Mom, too. We're going to make crowns out of doiles and colored paper. Glitter. We'll have carrot cake, Mom's favorite. She doesn't know about it. Don't tell her -- it's a secret.

Mom had a rough night last night. I keep forgetting that the reason I'm overly emotional (and long-winded, apparently) today is that I got NO SLEEP. At all. But today, man, is she on the good dope, and she's sleeping now. And snoring. I tried to turn her over to stop the snoring but she just giggled, and when your mother giggles like that, there's nothing to do but giggle back and put a pillow under her knees.

E.T.A. - La just sent me this photo - yet another reason she rides:

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Knockturn AlleyJune 5, 2008

My sister Christy's wizard rock (wrock) band Knockturn Alley will be playing at Linnaea's in San Luis Obispo this Saturday night. Great interview with them HERE, and it also has a picture  of them in which you just see the shadow-knitted Dark Mark scarf I made her. If you're local, you should go! They wrock.

Forty and FineJune 3, 2008

Lala's birthday was yesterday. She turned forty, and she rode the longest leg of the AIDS Lifecycle on the same day. That was taking a chance, to combine those two things, since she has been equating forty with OLD. (Let me make it clear that I don't think forty is old, nor does she think other people over forty are old. But for her, OLD. I debated whether to get her a walker, and then I remembered she already has one (she uses it to hold her lap steel at shows)).

I wasn't sure how Mom would be doing, so I didn't totally commit to being able to see Lala on her birthday. But yesterday afternoon was okay, so I left Mom in the capable hands of Mom's best friend and both my sisters, and drove up the coast, two hours north to King City, where the ride ended for the day.

We'd guessed that Lala would ride into camp late in the day, since she'd called and said she'd had a really late start. The route closes at seven o'clock, and anyone still riding past a certain point is swept into buses and driven into camp. Lala did NOT want this. This would not make for an easy transition, in her mind, to OLD.

I got there about 5:30pm. I stood on the corner, at the last turn the riders made before riding straight into camp, where food, showers, and sleep were waiting after their 105 mile trek. I cheered and hollered, and the motorcycle crew guy I was with let me use his flag. "300 yards to camp! Right turn! Downhill! You made it! Congratulations!"

Most of the riders grinned as they rode past. Some screamed with joy. Some were astonished, having given up guessing how close they were to the finish hours before. Some proposed marriage. Others were so far inside their own minds they gave no indication of hearing us, they were just concentrating so fixedly on making their bodies turn the pedals. Blank looks. I worried about their motor coordination.

The motorcycle crew guy, Ron, told me a story. He rode on the first ride, and has been doing moto crew ever since. He was directing traffic by himself out on 101, near Goleta, before it reaches the ocean. In a break between riders, a woman pulled her car over. She ran on the shoulder back to him and without saying anything, wrapped her arms around him and held on. After they hugged a while, she said that she'd been driving past the riders and had to say thank you to someone -- her uncle's partner had just died of AIDS, and she needed to thank them for what they were doing, out there, riding single-file on the freeway.

Already having a weepy day, that sure set me off.

I cheered for more riders and got more brilliant smiles and whoops of joy.

Six o'clock.

Six-thirty. Still no Lala.

Seven o'clock. Ron's wife, who was directing the last turn on the ride before this one, came in. No one left behind her, only the couple hundred riders still on the road between her old post and his. Everyone else behind THEM was being picked up by the buses, she guessed maybe two or three hundred of them.

So Lala would make it or she wouldn't. I searched for that magic combination of yellow jacket, pink helmet, and you'd be ASTONISHED at how many of those there were. I'd get my hopes up, and even think it was her, but the mouth wasn't right, and I'd just barely stop myself from yelling her name. It's honestly weird how so many of them looked so much alike, even close up. With the helmet, sunglasses, and bike clothes, you really only have to go on nose, mouth and chin to identify your loved one cycling by. It's not as easy as I thought it would be.

More riders. Still no Lala. I started to make contingency plans in my head. What would cheer up a newly 40-year old person who didn't finish the day's ride? They can't drink on the ride, so that's right out. Food, sure, but would she be able to stop snuffling long enough to eat it?

Then, yes, I think so....

It was Lala! Looking seriously H.O.T.T. Mmm, my sporty SPICE! And even better, she was one of the relaxed riders! Grinning! My yelling her name didn't make her fall off her bike, she just beamed and pulled up next to me, gave me a kiss. She'd had a GREAT ride. Even though she started so late she'd worried she might not make it, she'd passed a ton of people and enjoyed everything she saw along the way. She went to park her bike and grab her bag, and I stayed with Ron, and cheered people in with new enthusiasm. Lala had made it! So could they! And lots more, another half-hour's worth of riders filing steadily in, did make it. The "caboose" rider finally came in -- you knew she was the last for the day, because she was being followed by the Caboose vehicle. Literally driving right behind her ass. I said to Lala later, "Wouldn't that be awful? To know you were the last person?" She said, "No, she knows she's the last person not be swept by buses. She's thrilled."

I took her to her birthday hotel (no sleeping on the ground on a birthday, Rachael will not stand for that, no), and she took a hot shower, and washed some clothes. We went to a really nice restaurant and had steak and potatoes. I think she ate two potatoes, actually. She had chocolate milk.

By the time we got back to the room, she was too tired to eat the cake I'd brought her. We both slept all night, a beautiful sleep that we both desperately needed. It was really, really good.

Today she's riding from King City to Paso Robles, and tomorrow she'll be passing close by to Mom's house, from Paso to Santa Maria, so I plan to be out of the route again, looking for that yellow/pink combo of hotness and youthful determination. The walker can wait.

(Speaking of walkers, Mom's hanging tough. It must be your thoughts and prayers -- today, on no morphine at all since yesterday, she's sleeping a gentle sleep with peaceful breath, and when she's awake she has very little pain. At all. It's a miracle we'll accept with open hands and hearts.)