A random new life

I thought it would stop, but I found myself waking up with tears in my eyes (again!) after what I thought was a sound night of sleep. Getting there is still hard.

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My kids are sad.

Thing 2 is focused on longevity and some of the words that I had spoken at the service.

"Why did you say we were selfish?" he asked after a long weekend of family and photos and stories and tears. 

"Well, I said humans were selfish. No matter what we have, we want more. Grandpa lived a rich life and did so much of what he wanted to do.....including giving you squish-a-roonies and teasing you about "getting the girls". But for those of us who loved him, any amount of time with him would not be enough time."

"So what's the average age?" he asked me.

"For what?"

"For living," he said.

I thought and then said, "I don't know. Most people live long and productive lives if they care for themselves and are reasonably safe. The number is different for everyone."

He seemed satisfied but pensive. It was all he wanted from me, all he could take for the moment, and then he said, "Will you read to me?"

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Thing 1 is out of sorts. She doesn't like being thrown off her schedule, even at almost age 12. She doesn't like all the traveling, she doesn't like why we have been traveling, she wants the stories and hates the stories, and her heart just can't bear it at times.

"It's just so hard, mom. I won't ever see him again." Tears are streaming down her face as I try to comfort her.

"I know. It is hard. But we have each other, babe. And you, lucky girl, got Grandpa for 11 years..the record for his grandchildren. You are the Keeper of the Grandpa Wilfahrt Stories."

We lay together for what feels like hours, but is only a few minutes. Her breathing relaxes, but she is not asleep. 

"I just don't know how to think about it, " she whispers.

I say nothing because I don't know either.

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Thing 1 is sleeping on our floor again, a habit I thought we'd kicked. 

I noticed she picked up Harry Potter when this whole ordeal began almost six weeks ago. She'd moved on from that two grade levels ago, but she is racing through it once more now on Book 6. I know she has memorized every line in each book and there is comfort in a story that will not change. 

She will read it over and over until she feels settled.... and I will not stop her.

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Big Man is immersed in work. At night he is furiously pounding through the paperwork death leaves for the living. A soul-less task, impersonal and perfunctory. You were here and now you are not. Please let us know. 

While he attends to the business of death, I go after the business of living. Dirty dishes and clothes, homework, dog walking, soccer practice, summer camps. 

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New day, new normal, new way of life. 

Unwelcome, hard, no choice.








About a boy and his dad.

They have always been funny, these two. Paul kept Bob on a wild ride of --what should we get up to next?  Long time ribbing of how they were the youngest and most spry men in attendance (even when Paul's gait was unsteady) did not prevent them from actively participating in the omni-sexy model railroading that is all the rage these days.  Upper Midwest  road trips from Madison to Milwaukee, Minneapolis to Winona and points in between. Paul would drive a long ways to go to a model railroading show and if Bob could tag along, he would.

Paul developed a penchant for holiday decorations after his kids had grown and graduated.When his first grandchild came along, it seemed the perfect time for a Christmas inflatable. For a few years, he kept adding to these with the penultimate being two gigantic polar bears. But there wasn't much for them to do so he moved on to Halloween. Here is where he could create some action.  A technology guru and a long time fan of special effects, he was always interested in what the average man could do at home. And so with his ever-willing compadre, they would putz and tinker and make endless trips to Menard's and Home Depot for the right this or that. It goes without saying they likely already had whatever this or that may have been. This or that  just could not be found due to.... organizational challenges.

Over the years Bob has been gifted with any number of masks, weird hats, costumes, and special effects gadgets to enhance the haunted houses we started doing in our own garage. Not everyone can claim they received a bubbling cauldron, a strobe light, or a animated rat the size of our dog for their birthday...or even Christmas. Such gadgets allowed Bob to set up an empty exam room at Winona Health one Halloween to the delight and surprise of patients and staff.  Again, not everyone can claim their doctor had animated Halloween displays...in their exam rooms. Paul radiated pride at this feat.

There are endless stories of the funny man and his boy. Those, of course, are easy and fun and healing to tell. It explains at least part of my husband's heart, his penchant for seeking fun and sharing it with others, especially his own kids, and particularly his son.

But here is what won't be said this weekend.

Bob has lost his best friend, his mentor, his North star.  There have been pivotal moments in his life when what he needed for that final push in a big decision was some sort of stamp of approval, some clarification in his thinking, some guidance. He could talk to me, he could reason his own way through so much, but whenever he felt really hurt or particularly stuck, his dad pushed him through it.

The phone calls are done. The endless Saturday morning chatter about another railroad scene. The middle of the week phone calls where Paul was seeking guidance from the one doctor he trusted most, his son, about the latest medical malady.

I don't know why I didn't see it before, that Paul was his best friend. But it has hit me like a ton of bricks, the realization of what he has lost. 

We will find our way through this together since there really isn't any other way.

This weekend we will gather with friends and family to celebrate the wonderful life of The Original Big Man.  And I will do my best to take care of his boy.




Tiny explosions

Sometimes they are literal and sudden...such as the tragedy of yesterday. How utterly horrifying for those runners and all the friends and family and supporters along the way.  A day that has been meticulously planned for, where the months of gritty work is finally realized and ends in complete mayhem and confusion is just stunning. 

Sometimes, though, disaster creeps up on you. The Original Big Man's future remains unclear. His delirium persists and we just feel like maybe this might be it.  This might be who we have now, a weak man with few lucid moments just lying in a hospital bed. It's been a slip and slide sort of realization after all the whiplash of he's dying! He lived! He'll recover, right? Or won't he? What is his future? What is ours? No one seems to know.

But I am reminded of the goodness in our families and our friends.

My mom had arrangements to visit so I could be with my mother-in-law when her oldest daughter finally had to return to her real life. My brother had arrangements to leave at a moment's notice just to be with us as needed. My sister took my baby boy for two nights so I could help my in-laws.  My friends have called and sent messages and offered their ears and their hands and cared for my kids.  I am breathing in daily the beauty of people whose good wishes and prayers sustain us.

The folks in Boston will do the same.

Whether it takes you by surprise or the hard truth slowly creeps in, the feelings are no different.  Shock at the situation you are in, grief as the circumstances reveal themselves, pain at what is lost. It's all there no matter how it arrives.

People do show up whether or not you have lived life well by making deposits and investments in those around you. No matter the circumstances and without a background check, people give with abandon, pray without asking, love without questioning, and, as we saw yesterday, run toward the disaster to help, to serve. Rather than wonder at the horrors, it seems best to take in the light, that golden gleaming nuggets of evidence that goodness is far more resilient than any brief flash of evil. 

For all of us, Life is a series of tiny explosions made smaller by the work of our hands and heft of our hearts 


A surprise for me!

I tidied up my latest post and sent it off to The Huffington Post. They have a quick turn around so when I did not hear from them in two days, I assumed it was a no-go.

Imagine my surprise as I was driving home from another trip to St. Cloud when I checked my email to see this:


Thank you very much for your blog post. It's been published and can be found at this permanent link:


It's also permanently listed in your author archive:


I kind of giggle when I read "in your author archive" because there are many moments when I still feel like I am in Mrs. Reymond's 7th grade English class toiling away at a draft of this or that waiting for a smile of encouragement she would always give me. A crowning achievement was re-writing the lyrics to "Elvira" by the Oak Ridge Boys. That I successfully crafted that country hit into a Christmas poem should have made it clear to me that I was on my way right then and there (yes, you can laugh...it's ok), but I harbored doubts for a long while. 

At any rate, the other bit about writing and reacting to news for opinion pieces is that you have to do your work. I read several pieces from reputable news sources about Obama's remarks about Kamala Harris. I wanted to be sure that I was not "overreacting." Bloggers and tweeters have a way of blowing things out of proportion quickly. I sat on this for a day or so (eons in the news world) until I felt confident that, yes, I had a clear understanding of what had happened.  I learned too much later that Harris herself had commented on Obama's looks prompting him to reference her looks in his response.  This exchange was part of something bigger that I did not catch. 

Oh well.   

Obviously, the Huff Post isn't going to run things that are way off base because that detracts from their credibility. After re-reading what I wrote a hundred times, I think the essence of my angst still holds true no matter the exact context which is why they made the choice to run it. 

So, if you are wondering why my production for them and our local paper is slow, I hope this gives you a clearer picture. Despite it not being something I do for pay, I do not wish to look like a reactionary crackpot. Given how my days go, it takes lots of time to research not only what is going on, but that someone else hasn't already said what I did. It can make me crazy and sometimes, frankly, I just pass. With the family issues we have had as of late, I feel lucky to have an opinion on what I am making for dinner. 

Thanks for sticking with me readers. I so appreciate your kind words, enthusiastic responses to what I write, and the good vibes you give me. In the end I do it because I can't imagine not doing it, but sharing it makes it that much sweeter.

I Don't Think So

Beauty is a beast that burdens those of us who have it, and tortures those of us who feel we've drawn the short straw.  Even the president is not immune to a lovely lady. He said this about Kamala Harris, Attorney General of California: "You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake," Obama said. "She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country."

Had he been truly careful, he might have quit while he was ahead before tangling with the beast that is beauty.

The fight is still here, still omnipresent. How, how, how do women win the war on looks when our own commander-in-chief just can't stop himself in choosing to highlight them as well? However well-meaning they might have been, comment like this do not help, especially from a leader of a "free world."

But how free are any of us really when the follow-up to a roster of great attributes ends with a comment about looks?

Obama has his own girls. No doubt he thinks they are beautiful, but what makes them beautiful is the real question.

My communications degree taught me a lot about beauty, our perceptions of it, and how much more likely people are to be successful depending on how "beautiful" someone is perceived. It's impossible not to notice what people look like, but the mark of my maturity as an adult has been in reaching far beyond the physical to what is underneath...the spirit, the drive, the pulse of what makes someone tick.

As a parent, I am painfully aware of how I describe and craft my observations of people. I am also very careful in how I tell my children how I see them.  I've struggled with the word  "beautiful" in describing my own daughter, not because I don't think she is, but because of how our society seems to value physical beauty above other qualities.  And now that she is older, we discuss beauty as a living thing- beauty in a kind gesture, a bright smile, a gentle touch, self-confidence created by working hard, failing and succeeding, studying, reading, striving, pushing.  When my daughter hears me say she is beautiful, she understands that I am commenting on something much deeper than a set of physical attributes.

Women everywhere work with what we are given to feel good about ourselves, and it should be no secret that self-confidence has way more to do with beauty than any physical gifts. Our life experiences and intellect combined with education cultivated over time deepens and sharpens that self confidence. No one in a position such as Kamala Harris gets there without any of those things. While her physical beauty is part of who she is, that Obama felt compelled to name it within the context of his speech is what bothers me. 

All women at one time struggle with how we might be perceived on the beauty scale. It starts in the pink bundle when someone exclaims (or not), "She's gorgeous!" Hardly a female can watch Beyonce swagger without lusting after her thighs and shaking their head in awe at her mere existence. Magazines and ads and catalogs and keep us keenly aware of what is often perceived as "good-looking" attributes. They are hard to ignore.

But because I want more for myself and my daughter than to be chasing the whimsical tail of  physical beauty,  I want more from my president whose own girls are watching and listening. I want my president to keep those things to himself and most importantly, focus on the picture that really matters...one in which brilliance, tenacity, and self-confidence in a woman are so stunning that any observation of a physical attribute is simply not worth mentioning.


It is only then that our leader and all us, men and women, will really be free. 


Aftershocks

The crisis has passed, but the emotional whiplash continues. Our hearts have been beaten and battered around like an old, scruffed-up soccer ball the park kids dig out at the first sign of spring. 

He didn't die....he's better!  

What most of us thought was that better meant "as before". What better really means is that the infection is mostly gone.  We spent the weekend trying to let this sink in.

What remains is a man still in pain who is unwilling to admit he still has pain and pulling out his feeding tube.  What remains is a man with a swollen belly due to water weight from the IV. What remains is a man whose delirium is overpowering his lucid moments. Who we are seeing in no way resembles the man we have known.  Occasionally there are teeny-tiny glimpses (his most consistent concern is money so that jives). What remains is a very weak man.  We are very uncertain of who might emerge and what the end result of recovery will look like.

The weight of all the decision making was palpable in the family home this past weekend. There were tears and a settling-in of resolve to help rock star/mother-in-law, Linda.  

We will get through by treading lightly, carefully, intentionally. 

I propose a game of love laser tag wherein we zap each other on a continual basis sending out love vibes with our imaginary laser guns. The light waves carry beams of encouragement, hope, resolve, warmth, whatever is needed from whatever corner of the world we are in to St. Cloud, to Linda and Ali and Anne and my Big Man. I suppose other people rely on prayer chains, but I think I can get Thing 2 to buy in if I call it laser tag.  

It's likely The Original Big Man would scoff at such a thing. And there is no question that he would hate all of the time, emotion, energy, and resources spent on him.

But he doesn't have much say or any power in the matters at hand. He would hate that the most.

And I know how much he would hate this...this bearing of a family crisis. But it's my blog and my life and I need to do what I need to do. I hope he gets the chance to read this so I can really piss him off.  If he gets the chance to stop talking to me by choice, I will gladly take it for the team. It would be my pleasure because I don't hold grudges....and I'd still let him drive the tractor.