Maggie

I was talking to my friend Katie about her skill at making things pretty, and I asked her if she had ever considered being a photo stylist or an interior designer. She said she’s not confident, and I remarked that there are schools for that sort of thing. And that reminded me of, years ago, encouraging Maggie to get into graphic design.

Maggie was one of my best friends in high school. She was my movie buddy; we went to so many movies together. And I even got to go to Disney World for the first time with her family.

She was very creative, and made some really intriguing digital art. I really felt like she could have made it a career.

She was also just a wonderful person, and I always meant to visit her, to see her again after we graduated, but it never happened.

She died earlier this year.

I’m glad I gave Dad a backrub.

Not the one I gave him in the hospital, while he was staring wide-eyed at nothing, mouth open, breaths forced into him by a machine.

The one from the week before, when he sat up on his own on his couch and I sat next to him and rubbed his shoulders and back like I’d done so many times before, all my life, since I was a kid.

Don’t read this

This post is about how my dad died and it is not pretty and you should probably just avoid it.


Dad’s death was not quiet and calm and in his sleep. He stopped being able to breathe on his own so they put him on a CPAP–not a respirator, he didn’t want that. But the CPAP was the only thing allowing him to breathe, forcing air into him. And he stayed like that for hours while we all gathered to say goodbye. By the time we were all there he had been lying there staring at nothing for I don’t know how long, mouth gaping open. He never blinked. I don’t know if he knew the dog was there but I hope he did.

Then we had them give him morphine and take the CPAP off. And then he died. But it was an interminable death. Long moments would pass without breathing and then he would gasp again. He was still staring at nothing with his mouth gaping open but his tongue would move. Nothing else moved. When he gasped those breaths there was a pained croaking sound. AJ told him he could rest now. I didn’t say anything, except “I love you” a few times.

I don’t know how long it took but it was so horrible. Mom and AJ and Ben and Connor and I stayed in the room and everyone else stayed outside. I’m glad Logan stayed outside.

I feel like he was already gone by the time we gave him the morphine. But I still feel like we killed him.

After

“It’s so bright out!” Mom said as we walked out onto the pedestrian bridge leading from the hospital to the parking structure. “It seems like it should be nighttime.” She expressed the sentiment again later, as she turned the Explorer onto Conn Terrace towards Limestone. “It should just be dark.”

We took Limestone to Waller, crossed the railroad tracks, and turned left onto Broadway. It was late afternoon and the sun was directly in our eyes. “That folder in the visor is all Dad stuff, medical information and the handicapped sign,” Mom said. “You can take that down and flip the visor down. And we can just throw it all away when we get home.”

Broadway turned into Harrodsburg Road as we made our way back to Nicholasville, a route Mom has taken innumerable times over the past week, and months, and years. I unlocked my phone and told Sean and Kathryn that it was over and we were going home.

“There’s a place in Brannon Crossing called Legacy or something. We should call them,” Mom said. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t really like funerals.”

We finally got to the house and the couch was still at the end of the driveway. “If it’s still there in a couple days, we’ll take it to the dump,” Mom said. We went inside to where the adjustable bed from hospice, made up fresh that afternoon and never used, sat in the newly rearranged and cleaned family room. I put the folder on the kitchen table and dragged Mom’s luggage to her bedroom, where I threw all the syringes and masks and tubing and other medical supplies into a bag and then hid that bag away in the small guest bedroom, laid Mom’s clothes out on her bed, and put away the shirt and pants Dad was supposed to come home in.

“You’ve done everything,” Mom said, even though she was simultaneously putting away the clothes I’d laid out. She turned to the closet. “And there’s all his shirts,” and her voice almost turned into a wail, but she hugged me and drew a deep breath. “When Lee passed, family from Oklahoma came and took all the man stuff away,” she said. “I think that would be good. We can put everything in bags and give it to Cedar Lake Lodge. Do you think I should ask the boys if they want anything first?” I agreed that this was probably the best idea. “I just feel like I’m full of adrenaline,” Mom said. “Like I have to do something right now. But I don’t have to do anything right now.”

We left her bedroom and went into the kitchen and started dumping all of Dad’s medicines into the trash.

Our Sammy

Sam

2012 ended with the death of our family dog, Sam, at the age of 3.

When Mom and Dad picked him from a litter of border collie mixes, he was tiny. He grew up fast, lean with beautiful markings, soft brown eyes and plenty of energy. He loved to fetch balls and frisbees, though he never quite got the hang of catching them in midair, and he never wanted to give them up once he had them. He’d try to keep them all, piling balls and frisbees in his mouth and carrying them to his favorite perch on a log near the picnic table in my parents’ backyard.

Then he got sick.

It seemed to be an allergy. Rashes broke out all over his body. He went on medicine, prednisone, and that made him hungry. He went from being a picky eater to wolfing down anything he was given and begging for more. But the skin problems didn’t go away. Mom tried everything: special baths, changing his diet, tearing out her carpet…nothing worked. The prednisone was all that kept the rashes in check, and then only barely.

Sam lost a lot of his energy and started spending more time lying around, less excited about going outside. When I saw him at Christmas, he was constantly leaking fluid from his eyes and had a smell. He didn’t move like a puppy; he moved like an old dog. He’d been that way long enough that I didn’t realize how strange it was until Dad mentioned his age to me.

After I went home, Mom called to tell me Sam had been diagnosed with diabetes. It was pretty bad. They started him on insulin immediately, but it don’t seem to be doing anything. Even if it had, Sam would still have his skin rashes, compounded by the fact that he could never again have prednisone, as it was the likely cause of the diabetes and would exacerbate the disease.

Five days passed. There was no change. He couldn’t get up. He was pooping himself and throwing up whatever he tried to eat.

Mom and AJ took Sam to the vet.The doctor mercifully came out to the van so Sam wouldn’t have to go inside. In a few moments Sam went to sleep for the last time.

That was December 31, the day before yesterday. Somehow it all feels unreal to me. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see it. I didn’t even see Sam’s sickness get bad. The last time I saw him, I thought he was okay, maybe a little uncomfortable, but not that bad. It seems so strange to me that in just a few days he would take such a turn.

I last saw him on Tuesday, December 25. He was unable to get up by the weekend. And he was put down on Monday, December 31.

And he wasn’t an old dog. He was basically still a puppy. I was so used to old dogs that his old dog behavior must not have registered. But he wasn’t old. And he never got the chance to be old.

Like AJ told me, he had a lot of things wrong with him, and we didn’t catch them all in time.

I don’t know if we even could have. Mom says the vet thinks Sam might have had “bad genes”, especially given the fact that our other dogs lived to ripe old ages.

If that’s the case, if it was all just luck of the draw, then what a terrible hand to be played. Our sweet Sammy deserved more of a life than that.

But he did live a life full of love, surrounded by people who loved him, getting spoiled, eating snow, playing with frisbees, enjoying big hugs and pets, shaking hands, barking on command, curling up on the pet bed in the family room, playing with squeaky toys, running down the stairs to see AJ or go outside, sidling up to Dad’s couch, snuggling up under Mom’s desk, chasing the cat, standing right in everyone’s way, begging for scraps, bolting across the yard after cats or visiting grandchildren.

I loved to wrap my arms around that big boy and give him enormous hugs, and stroke the hair on his head and scratch him behind the ears, and hold his face and kiss him on his doggy cheeks. I loved how excited he always was to see me and how he followed me around the house. I loved that he was a sweet, good boy who loved me and my parents. I loved how much joy he brought to my parents’ life.

He’s gone and there’s a hole. There’s just a hole.

Mary

For whatever reason–my introversion, the fact that I lived off-campus–I bonded with very few fellow students in my years at the University of Kentucky. There were perhaps three people who truly meant something to me, enough that I think of those people frequently to this day.

One of those people is my friend Mary, who I met in my Teaching English as a Second Language courses. She was taking them at the graduate level, while I took them as part of my undergraduate linguistics degree (and received a Certificate in Applied Linguistics for TESL upon completion). Mary had children around my own age, but the difference in years and experiences between us never mattered. We were kindred spirits. We were interested in people, in stories, in learning. I remember riding the bus around campus with Mary, talking about anything and everything. I remember visiting her house and trying her homemade sushi rolls.

For class once, students were to prepare lesson plans as if we were teaching non-native speakers of English. I focused my class on advanced learners and made a creative writing lesson. Mary eagerly read her paragraph to the class, about a craft she’d once learned, and while I don’t remember the details, I can still hear her in my head saying “We would poke holes in” whatever substance the craft was made of. “Very sophisticated, Mary,” I remember saying, and thinking later that since I was supposed to be teaching English, I probably should have written the word “sophisticated” on the board.

Mary had curly auburn hair, glasses, pale skin and an easy smile. I can still see her face in my mind. She seemed young. She was an accomplished singer and songwriter. A recent skim through some old blog posts made me remember a party she’d held, how much fun I’d had playing pool at her house and looking at her husband’s LEGO collection. “I bet she’s on Facebook,” I said aloud. And so I searched.

I found many people with her name, but none that quite fit. Many were too young, many had the wrong background. Finally I decided to just google her and see what came of it.

And that’s when I found out that my friend died of breast cancer in 2007.

She died five years after I graduated and we lost touch. Just five years.

Now that I think about it, I’m remembering her saying something about battling breast cancer before. I had recently beaten cancer myself, which is probably why we talked about it at all. She always seemed so strong. Sure, she had stress, and there were things she confided in me that I will keep to myself forever. But I never felt that she was in danger. I never worried.

I never thought to keep track of her after I moved and changed my name for marriage. She probably had no idea how to find me.

I just let her go, as if friendships should be discarded the moment something in life shifts.

I’ve always tended to punish myself in this sort of situation, to feel overwhelming guilt. I do wish I had been a better friend to Mary after college. I wish we had stayed in touch. I wish I had been there for her when she was struggling at the end.

But more than that, more than my petty, destructive need to blame myself: A beautiful lady is gone. A wife, a mother, a writer, a singer; a caring, philosophical, intellectual woman is gone.

My friend is gone.