"All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost."

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Last month, my dad was admitted to Hospice. It's not like when my mom died in the intensive care unit at Woodstock hospital five years ago. Then, Hospice provided cookies, hot coffee, and compassion in the corridor as we took her off life-support. That was a shorter gig. For my dad's needs, Hospice will assist him medically and emotionally, right in his room at Bickford, and no one is quite sure for how long.

Hospice provides a lot of services for the family as well. A caseworker interviews you with sixty minutes of questions, and a social worker helped me plan my dad's funeral. If you're quick to tears, they have a psychologist call you on your cellphone within the hour. I've been called three times in two weeks.

A hospice is also lodging for travelers, which is the definition I like best. Granted, this ain't no trip to Disneyland - more like the vacation from hell - and I do not like being away from home for longer than three days. But, seeing the last phase of my dad's life as a journey, the two of us on the final dusty trail - he, The Lone Ranger; me, Tonto - makes the ride a little less intolerable.

I've told my dad to "follow the light" several times over the past few months. That's right, I want him to go. I see my mom perhaps holding a flashlight to guide his way or maybe it's something more romantic like a candle which beckons my father toward her. Either way, it is my nightly prayer that Dad will give up his struggle with death and give in to whatever makes his pain go away. Traveling was something my parents did all the time because they loved taking breaks in their routine, experiencing different cultures, and meeting new people. I see them together now, at some midpoint toward the end, checking in to a hospice, both of them young again, vibrant and beautiful.

I'm not a good traveler. If you sit by me on an airplane, I'll dig my nails into your arm and ask over and over if we're going to make it. I worry about losing my luggage. It's not a big deal because I always pack the wrong stuff anyway. The point is, I hate to travel, and if Chicago was on an ocean, I would never leave home. I don't like being away from the cup that holds my toothbrush, my fuzzy blanket, and Mrs. Doubtfire, my pillow. I like breaks in my routine, experiencing different cultures, and meeting new people; I just want to sleep in my own bed right afterward.

My dad left home at 17 to lie his way in to the Army. He was an only child, raised by his parents and Ukrainian immigrant grandparents. From what I can piece together, through pictures and a few conversations with distant cousins, he had a happy childhood. He met my mother while serving during WWII in Manila. They married and moved around constantly, my brothers and I each born in a different state, until they finally settled in Saratoga, California for 25 years. Still, they traveled. Their passports were stamped in the airports of London, Germany, Vienna, Paris, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Egypt, Morocco, Jerusalem, Israel, India, Russia, Romania, South Africa, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Greenland, New Zealand, and Australia. They were stalked by Bengal tigers on safari and stampeded by protesters in Tienanmen Square.

Both my brothers plan trips and travel to places like Croatia and Belize, so how my parents had a kid like me is pretty inexplicable. I'm the one less traveled. I'm the one who stayed home, so I find it kind of funny that this is why I'm here, on a long, strange trip after all. There is no itinerary to follow, no stamps on a passport, no worry about losing luggage. I sleep in my own bed at night. Dad and I are simply traveling together until some midpoint toward the end. Then he'll fly solo, headed for his final destination and traveling toward the light.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


There was a kiddie train outside the gates of the San Diego Zoo that my son was obsessed with. We were official zoo members back then and took advantage of unlimited visiting priviledges. AJ would wear his YOU BELONG IN THE ZOO t-shirt and a CUBS baseball hat; I wore size-six mom jeans and big blue sunglasses. I can still see my little boy squatting in front of the fenced-in baby animals while pointing at the sunbleached goats and fawns. We would watch gorillas pick bugs off each other, spot Koalas amongst bamboo trees, and feed elephants raw peanuts. But, most of all, at the end of the day, we loved to watch the choo-choo wind its way around the track and say bye-bye as it disappeared through the tunnel.

We always had fun at the zoo. The weather was 99.9% perfect, mommy packed a picnic lunch, and we knew we had it pretty good in our San Diego paradise. AJ never liked leaving, but the lure of waving goodbye to the little train as it followed its track around and around, over and over again each week, made it easier to head toward the parking lot.

Over the weekend, I rode a train from Dallas to Chicago called the Texas Eagle. My daughter decided to move to Arizona, broke up with her boyfriend on Valentine's Day, packed up her car with garbage bags of clothing and nine thousand pairs of shoes, and I accompanied her on the first leg of her trip. She wore a TALK NERDY TO ME t-shirt and comfortable grey sweatpants; I wore size-fourteen mom jeans and big brown sunglasses. I can still see my little girl riding shotgun covered in Google maps and pages of directions on how to program the Garmin. She screamed as I recklessly changed lanes, narrowly avoiding being side-swiped by several cars exceeding the speed limit on I-355 out of Illinois.

We drove for 18 hours with big lumps in our throats. Planning and rehashing Ali's future, crying over the broken-hearted boy she thought she would marry and was leaving behind, laughing at silly things we observered on the highway that certainly no one else would find funny - a horse's tail caught in the back of a trailer, a rickety RV with eyelet curtains. We sobbed realizing we would soon be separated by a gut-wrenching goodbye, a kiss and a hug that must tide us over for at least three months, and 1700 miles of train track.

It hurts to say goodbye to someone you love. It's not fun like waving at a tiny train on a circular track. Tears burn your eyes and a knife wounds your heart. You comfort yourself with old adages - every ending is a new beginning - when God shuts a door, he opens a window - if you love something, let it go. But letting go isn't easy, so you massage your heart with the sweet- scented oil of see-you-soon.

I've said goodbye to parts of my dad at least seventeen times. Goodbye ability to read a map at the zoo. Adios capacity to drive. Aloha naming five fruits, drawing a clock, and knowing what year it is. Hasta la vista finding your way home from a walk. Shalom reading your watch, reading books, and reading my mind. Chow dressing yourself, feeding yourself, and thinking for yourself. Sayonara someone I can talk to. Farewell remembering your name is Jack, who your sons are, and how many grandchildren you have. Bye-bye choo-choo your memory of me.

This weekend, riding the Texas Eagle, I finally started to realize how lucky I truly am. I'm prone to taking comfort in old adages and just plain grateful I have so many beautiful things in my life that make saying goodbye difficult. I love my dad with his plaqued-out brain. I'm thankful my daughter is brave enough to go looking for something she wants, even though it means moving away from home, and the memories of myself as a new mother, waving at trains with a son like AJ, are my happiest. There will still be days when life is 99.9% perfect. I know I have it pretty good. Goodbye don't mean I'm gone.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I hope when this is all over I still have friends. And a husband. I hope Aaron and Allison still have a mom with a sense of humor, and my happiness gene reappears intact. When my dad is out of his misery and I'm out of mine - watching him in his - I hope I don't waste too much time feeling guilty for feeling relieved that he is done suffering, and so am I. Just thanks, all of you, for your understanding, patience, and unconditional love. Without you, it would just be me, up that creek, without a paddle.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


You should see my Sunday school pin. It's five or six inches long and represents my twelve years of service, as a youngster, sitting in a windowless classroom at Saint Andrew's Episcopal church, studying the teachings of the Lord, our God. I can't remember a lot of what I learned, but, the basics - Jesus loves the little children, Noah rises and shines, and people should be nice to each other - were seared onto my poor, unworthy soul. I carry these lessons with me throughout life along with - wait your turn, don't be late, and clean your plate - like loose coins and ponytail holders at the bottom of my purse. I know where they are if I need a quarter or my hair pulled up in a pinch.

I can't say I'm religious or spiritual anymore. I don't kneel at an alter or take communion. I sleep late on Sundays and eat pancakes in my pajamas for brunch. I break commandments. But, I will say, sometimes I talk to God. I'm pretty sure my Sunday school teacher would not approve of my going directly to Him with my comments, questions, and concerns, but, along with being a lousy Episcopalian, I am impertinent, impetuous, and impudent.

Every time I want to tell God something, ask him a favor, or beg him for a sign, I always take in to account that He is very busy. I don't want to distract His attention away from a soldier praying for his safety in a dark place outside Baghdad or a mother praying for her child's health in the cold corridor of a cancer ward. I know, in the bigger picture, my problems are much less important. I can wait my turn.

Last week, I was driving to Bickford from Woodstock when I started to cry. I wasn't even with my dad yet, and the type of day it would be had not been determined, but I was extremely overtired. And, when I say cry, I mean a type of wailing that comes up from the belly, circles the room, and assaults the ears. It's earthy and primal; it's unfiltered grief. If allowed, it can fuck up a whole day.

So I said, "God, I swear to Christ, if you are there, you gotta help me out. You have to see me through this day. I need the strength to stop crying." (If you are shocked that I would swear at God, then you might not love someone with AD. You're probably not a caregiver.)

Mid-gulp for oxygen, I stopped. Like a click of the remote, from thunderous death-defying-avalanche documentary to calm drink-a-Corona-on-the-beach commercial, my tirade was over. It did not wind down with a sniffle or hiccup. I did not have to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth for a minute. I mean, I just stopped crying. It was communion on the fly. I was a target, God hit a bulls eye, a choir sang.

I don't know where I stand with my faith, but that was surely a sacred moment and something close to holy happened. I made it through the day, and the six days after, without any tears and I felt blessed.

Typically, when I ask God for stuff, the answer is no. My mom did not survive her auto-immune disease, my father was not spared the indignities that come with memory loss, and I did not make the high school cheerleading squad. But, if that was the sign I've been asking for these past five years, I'll take it. Thank you, God. I'll talk to you later.