Friday 5: Scattergories

From Friday 5, and I got an “l” from the random letter generator.

  1. What beverage do you enjoy but seldom have? Lattes. I only have them if I’m out and about and near a coffee shop, and even then typically only in the winter or if I can get an iced variety. It’s summer, so my coffee-shop go-to right now is iced tea.
  2. What’s better now than when you were a kid? Life. At least in some ways. I’m not one of those “I hate adulting and I wish I were a kid again types.” I love being independent and on my own.
  3. Who makes you happy? Lover. As in, my husband.
  4. Where do you go when you want to indulge? Lush. For relaxing bath products that I technically don’t need, but a good bubblebath can do wonders for the mind and body.
  5. Where’s a comfy place to sit? Loveseat. Ours is about as old as me–30–because it’s from my parents’ first apartment and definitely needs replaced, but we’re holding off on that until we get some other stuff paid off. Maybe even longer than that since my husband’s job is kind of up in the air. But for now, it’s generally soft and comfy and where we sit and watch our run of Netflix and Hulu shows in the evening. Sometimes with the cat perched at the top.

Some Post-Funeral Thoughts, in No Particular Order

  • I’ve been pretty up front about the fact that my dad and I never had a great relationship. A lot of people talk about how in the face of terminal illness and death itself, they make amends or regret the past. I don’t, at least not right now–I concede that I may one day. But he could be difficult and frustrating, and we got along better when we weren’t under the same roof. That’s just how it is, and I don’t see any sense in devoting emotional energy to dwelling on other possibilities. We did exchange “I love yous” once in the midst of all this, and I did give him a hug when I left the house the last time I saw him awake a few days before he died (I’d been there the day he died, as I said, but he wasn’t awake at all). And I think for whatever our relationship may or may not have been, saying that and expressing that kind of affection did what such things are supposed to.
  • I did lose my foodie buddy.
  • I appreciate my family’s attitude towards death. Years ago, when my mom’s coworker’s son was killed in a car accident as a teenager, conversations inevitably came up in our family about things like life support, and I think those conversations then paved the way for blunt and necessary conversations now. No one avoided them and no one shut down when they happened–they were matter-of-fact, and I’m glad.
  • I was getting really aware of the reality of it lately, even in the little things. Our new siding was going up on the house while he was declining in the hospital, and I remember thinking, “He’s never going to see it.”
  • The little things do matter. Kind of. I’ve known this since my grandfather died. Those little shared moments are the things you remember and miss most. One of my favorite quotes from The Crow is, “Little things used to mean so much to Shelly. I used to think they were kind of…trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial.”
  • It still doesn’t feel real, and my best friend, who lost her dad a few years ago, said sometimes for her it still doesn’t feel real. I know enough to know that grief is weird and there’s no “right” way to do it, but sometimes I just sit and think, “My dad is dead,” like I can’t really grasp what that means just yet or I’m trying to see how I react and if that reaction is changing. And yes, I’ll be calling my therapist. It was just luck and good timing that I met with him a week before all this, too.
  •  It’s weird to say that a death in the family and a funeral make you feel loved and supported, but…it’s hard to ignore when people show up for him but also for your family. Our friends and family kept us fed, people reached out directly to express their sympathy and ask what they could do even when the answer was, “Nothing,” or, “Take me out for drinks when this is all over,” there was a line out the door of the room where he was viewed of people coming in and talking to mostly my mom but my brother and, I too, people donated hundreds of dollars to the organization that flew him to his treatments for free, people did a round of shots with us, people stayed at the house and got food ready between viewings and made sure that everything was taken care of and tackled what they could so we didn’t have to.
  • I’ll be blunt, we thought some of my dad’s opinions of the afterlife were dumb. We used to tease him about it. He believed that when the second coming of Christ happens, the dead would need to be intact. So we respected it. He’ll have his glasses and even his cufflinks when the time comes. We also figured if his suit wasn’t arranged exactly the way he would’ve worn it in life, we’d all be haunted.
  • I couldn’t help but think about the fact that when he deployed, we were a trio at home faced with the very real possibility that it would stay that way, and if not for a few seconds and him reacting fast enough to throw a grenade out of a tank, it absolutely would have. And we’re a trio now.
  • Speaking of throwing that grenade out of the tank, the passing of time and return to, you know, our everyday lives in the 15-ish years since made it easy to forget how big a deal that actually was. Guys who were in the tank with him came to the funeral–guys who would be dead if not for him–and one of my uncles really wanted to meet them. His awards were on display in the casket and news clippings were among the pictures of him we put out. It really hit me at the burial, though. Of course, he always bragged about how he was eligible for a full military burial, but actually seeing it was another thing. His casket was draped in a flag that was presented to my mother, he got a gun salute, they played “Taps,” the whole thing, and I had a moment of, “Oh, shit, this is kind of a big deal.”
  • My mom always used to say she was gonna outlive him because she had so much stress as work she figured there was no possible way she wouldn’t go first.
  • When I looked at all the flowers around the casket and who showed up and, in some cases, how they were taking it, I thought about how my mom told me once that he used to think her side of the family didn’t really like him on account of the fact that I was, um…a surprise, as my mom likes to say. And I know he did send her siblings and their spouses a lengthy, heartfelt text after he was diagnosed. I wrote this essay once in middle school about him, which naturally turned into a whole to do because, you know, no one saw that coming, but it fit the assignment. It was about how he didn’t really care what people thought of him, for the most part, and kind of just did what he wanted to do–and yet it bothered him to think that maybe he was disliked in the family when it probably wasn’t true. And I realized probably for the first time that that’s me to a T. That’s where I get it, although I’m sure there are other factors. But I do the same thing. I present myself in a very give-no-fucks-way, and for the most part, it’s genuine. I can’t be bothered to consider outside opinions about how I dress or what I enjoy. I love that about myself, and I respected about my dad–obviously, or I wouldn’t have written about it as a pre-teen. But if I feel like someone doesn’t like me? If I think they’re an asshole or I don’t like them, by all means, I do not care, but if I do like and respect them? It bugs me. Funny how it’s probably our biggest personality similarity and I only just now figured it out.

Saturday 9: Brand New Life

Saturday 9: Brand New Life (The Theme from Who’s the Boss) (1984)

Unfamiliar with this week’s tune? Hear it here.

1) Who’s the Boss? is a sitcom that ran from 1984 to 1992. Were you a fan? Never watched it.

2) This week’s song was composed by the show’s producers, two men not known as songwriters. Have you ever tried your hand at songwriting? Not anytime recently, but I did some as a teenager.

3) The lyrics tell us that, as we go through life, it’s not uncommon to “lose a dream or two.” Do you agree? Have you ever had to give up on a dream? I answered a similar question the other day. No. I’m too young. Plus it’s not in my nature.

4) Who’s the Boss? was about a highly paid executive who hires a housekeeper. In the 1980s, it was unusual because the exec was a woman and the housekeeper was a man. Do you believe a man can be as good at housework as a woman? Oh, definitely.

5) Though the show’s star, Tony Danza, graduated from University of Dubuque and was prepared to be a teacher, he got sidetracked. Back in New York, he boxed and tended bar and fell into acting. He finally did teach in 2010, taking over a 10th grade English class. How many different occupations have you held? Not many–I’d say my only true diversions were when I was a kid doing odd jobs.

6) On the show, his daughter was played by Alyssa Milano. When she was a teenager, she rebelled against the show’s producers by cutting off her long hair and wearing a pixie style. Were you a rebellious teen? Not in the sense of rebelling for the sake of it. I never did anything just to get a reaction or anything like that, but it was definitely a time where I was figuring out who I was.

7) “The Boss” was Judith Light, who had been known to TV audiences from her work on One Life to Live. She met Robert Desiderio on the set of the soap opera and they have been married more than 34 years. Tell us where one of your romances got started. My husband and I met at our younger brothers’ high-school graduation. They were good friends, and I caught my husband’s attention.

8) The show — rebroadcast with subtitles — was a hit in Italy, where it was known as Casalingo Superpiù (Super Housekeeper). Say something to us in Italian. Ciao!

9) Random question — Have you more recently watched the sun rise or set? Sunset, sort of–we were in the car as it was going down. The sun is either up or rising when I’m working, and although I have a window in my office, I don’t really get to see much of it as it’s situated to my left and a little behind me.

Friday 5: Heartbreak Hotel

Probably gonna do all seven rather than pick five!

  1. What’s down at the end of the Boulevard of Broken Dreams? Maybe nothing right now. I haven’t given up on anything and I’m too young for it to be too late.
  2. What’s down at the end of My Way? Probably just me where I am right now.
  3. What’s down at the end of Perfect Circle? Dana Scully’s snake tattoo.
  4. What’s down at the end of Asian Avenue? Great food.
  5. What’s down at the end of Sunday Drive? My grandparents’ house, where Grandma has made a breakfast a perfect poached eggs and toast, plus poppyseed cake and apricot cookies.
  6. What’s down at the end of Stay in Your Lane? Me again, except this time, I look really annoyed to be there and like I could take off running at any moment.
  7. What’s down at the end of Any Place? My dad died a week ago today, so my whole family at a buffet before a concert, like we always did and will continue to do, it’s just we’ll be down one next time.

As always, from Friday 5.

So I’ve been quiet over here lately, mostly because I decided to start writing about music over on Medium and have been focusing my writing time and attention on that. I’ve been meaning to pop back over here and talk about what I’ve been up to for the last month, but unfortunately, I’m here to report pretty big but sad news.

My dad died on Saturday.

He’s been battling cancer all year, of course, and something told me back when we got the news that I’d be sitting here writing this post before the end of the year.

First, within the last couple of months, if that, we got the news that the chemotherapy he’d been doing wasn’t working and that the cancer had actually spread. He started immunotherapy instead, but he’d only done one session–surely, not enough for it to do much–before the cancer really started to take its toll.

My cousin Meredith was in town for a weekend a couple weeks ago, so I met up with her and Marissa that Friday night for dinner in Pittsburgh. I was even saying that night that if the immunotherapy didn’t go well, there was no way he was gonna make it through the year. We stayed out pretty late–I got in around 2 a.m. and woke up to my mom calling me at 7 to let me know that my dad had gone to the hospital overnight, likely right around the time I was finally going to bed, and that they were talking about the possibility of hospice care.

He was in the hospital for about 10 days after that, with a number of ups and downs along the way–first, things turned around and they were prepared to discharge him Saturday night, but he’d been in pain so neither he nor my mom had been sleeping well and they both thought they’d rest better if he stayed overnight. Somehow, things declined after that, and one day he’d be doing okay and close to getting ready to go home and the next, he was on oxygen or having fluid drained from his stomach or a lung. After the first couple of days, he slept almost the entire time, and when he talked, we could barely hear him. Paul and I spent the bulk of a visit just sitting talking to each other while he slept. He was awake maybe a few minutes, if that.

His doctors in Philadelphia, where he was being treated for the cancer, were still confident that they could help him and said they wouldn’t have even started the immunotherapy if they felt that it was time for hospice, so the goal became to get him strong enough to get out of the hospital and back into treatment. Despite feeling pretty ready to give up, he’d agreed to it, almost definitely because we were using Eliana, his new granddaughter, to encourage him.

The problem was getting him to that point. His Philly doctors may have thought they could’ve helped, and they probably could have, but he was just too wiped out at that point and finally decided to go home to do hospice care and got that set up. I drove out to my parents’ house last Tuesday to help my mom and Uncle Eric, a former army medic, get him situated. He looked awful–he’d lost a lot of weight over the course of the year and probably longer, when you consider when the tumor developed versus when he was diagnosed, and his face and shoulders especially looked really, really thin, while his stomach looked bloated, almost definitely from fluid and tumors.

I stayed to listen to the details the hospice nurse went over, thinking about how weird it was to basically be talking about someone dying when they were right down the hall, and popped in to give him a hug before I left. That ended up being the last time I saw him awake.

My mom had a hair appointment Saturday morning and asked me to come sit with him, so I headed out early. I forgot I needed to stop for gas, so I texted her to let her know I was doing that and would be a few minutes later than I said. She said she was afraid his lung had filled with fluid again and called a nurse, and by the time I got there, she’d canceled her hair appointment, too, since the nurse hadn’t arrived yet. When she did arrive, things actually seemed okay–she did some things to make him more comfortable and make things easier and got him drugs to help with a small amount of fluid, and although he sounded bad, it wasn’t so bad that anything needed drained.

Uncle Eric checked in, too, the nurse left, and I helped give him some meds and hung around a little longer, until almost 3 in the afternoon. I poked in the room–my old bedroom, actually–and noticed his breathing was really slow and let my mom know.

Paul and I were planning to spend the evening seeing a movie, and I’d only been home a few minutes and we were about to get ready to head back out when my mom called his phone. I glanced at mine and saw I had no missed calls or texts, and when he answered, I could hear her voice cracking asking if I was home yet and for him to put me on. I pretty much knew, even as soon as his phone rang and not mine, that he had died and she didn’t want to tell me while I was driving.

It turns out that he’d probably died at most a half-hour after I left. My mom went back to check on him and noticed he wasn’t breathing. She called Uncle Eric and the nurse, but Uncle Eric was closer and got there with a stethoscope. He didn’t hear anything. It was probably about 15 minutes later that she called Paul’s phone.

I had barely eaten all day, so we got some food delivered, sat out on the deck a little bit, and then packed overnight bags and drove back out to the house. We were tearfully greeted by my my mom’s best friend, Lisa; my Aunt Gina; my godmother; and her mother, plus my brother, his wife, and the baby.

The extended family cleared out pretty quick, I assume to give us time and space. Lisa hung around and we all shared some wine–Brandon already had a beer in his hand when I got there. We spent the evening watching one of my mom’s favorite movies, ’70s crime parody Murder by Death, and us kids, our spouses, and baby Eliana spent the night.

Sunday, Brandon, my mom, Uncle Eric, and I went to plan the funeral, and Kelly and Paul hung back at the house with Eliana in case anyone showed up with food, and show up they did. I think by the end of the whole mess, we had two sandwich rings, potato salad, macaroni salad, pasta salad, actual salad, rigatoni, fruit tarts, cookies, and cake from family, friends, and neighbors. And it was useful. It kept us all fed through Wednesday, pretty much.

We decided to do a short viewing Monday and a longer one Tuesday with the funeral Wednesday, so the whole three days was basically a whirlwind of sitting in the funeral home and talking to people. Monday I was having a fair bit of anxiety about seeing him in the casket from the first time, but other than the final goodbyes before processing to the cemetery, I was pretty okay. Well, except for when the Honor Guard, who stands by the casket, came in line and individually saluted his casket before the start of each viewing.

One of my mom’s aunts tried to talk her out of doing a two-day viewing, which I can understand, but the three of us–Mom and kids–all felt that a lot of his military connections would want to come and that a two-day viewing would give them more time to make it. Judging by the line Tuesday night, we were right. A whole line of guys from his various support groups came in, as well as the guys from his unit and guys he deployed with, even most of the guys who were in the tank with him years ago when he threw the grenade out of it. Friends of all of ours came over the course of the three days, plus some extended family and the occasional, “Do you know who that is?” met with a shrug.

Monday night, we went out for drinks with Uncle Clark, and Brandon’s sister-in-law Katie, her boyfriend, and a friend of theirs joined us. Of course, we did a round of shots. Tuesday night, I wasn’t really feeling it and lounged around my parents’ house for a bit instead.

Brandon and I were both thinking of speaking at the funeral, and I wasn’t sure I was gonna do it pretty much until the pastor called me up. I even told her there was a chance I’d change my mind at the last second, but weirdly, it was easy. We both got through our bits calmly–I talked about how I watched Star Trek with him as a kid and how we shared a love of food and music and closed by saying when we all get up there, we’ll meet him for a concert and buffet dinner once again like we’ve always done, and Brandon talked about how he was basically Peter Griffin and Stan Smith combined. We used to joke that we could sue Seth MacFarlane for stealing material from our own damn house for his shows.

The final goodbyes were difficult, and figures that I put more mascara on, totally forgetting that his coffin would be draped in an American flag and carried out by the Honor Guard. The ceremony at the cemetery was really nice, though, and he would’ve liked it, especially as someone who’s been saying for years that he was eligible for a full military burial. There was a gun salute–not technically 21 guns, but seven guns fired three times–and “Taps,” which can make me teary on a regular day, so I knew that it was gonna get to me like it did and was probably my most emotional moment of the whole few days, maybe with the exception of when my mom first told me. My mom was presented with the flag from his casket and a plaque.

The cemetery is closer to where I live and work than my mom and most of the rest of the family, so when we were making plans, myself and my cousin who’s nearby were asked for some input on where we could eat afterwards. We settled on this nice place we’d both been to separately called Juniper Grill, and my mom said that from the second she called them to ask about it, they were so nice that that alone won her over and she almost didn’t even want to call other places. I helped pick out the food, and we had a really nice dinner, under the circumstances, with this cornbread my dad would’ve loved. When the pastor gave the blessing and she asked us if there was anything we wanted her to add, I told her to tell everyone to eat as much as he would have.

Near the end, when everyone was getting ready to go, we did one more round of shots–we ordered 20 and had 17 participants, from us youngins to great uncles to even the pastor. Brandon and I took the three remaining shots, turned them into just two, and did them on our own, just us two kids.

I’m exhausted now, mostly physically, but some of that’s probably emotional weight, too. All in all, we’re all doing okay–the thing about all of this from the start of his treatments to now is that when I’m at home, everything feels normal. My day-to-day life is mostly the same. But I know that’s not gonna last and that some of the weirdest, hardest parts are yet to come. Lisa said to me Saturday night that nothing will be quite the same, that I’ll be going about my business and just think, “My dad is dead,” that things will remind me of him. I know the first time I go to share something funny in our group text, I’ll have to stop myself and remember Dad’s not in it anymore. That though we expanded to a family six when Brandon and I got married and now seven with Eliana, when we go to sit at a restaurant or buy concert tickets, we’re down one.


Saturday 9: Come and Knock on Our Door

Saturday 9: Come and Knock on Our Door (1976)

Unfamiliar with this week’s tune? Hear it here.

1) This week’s song was the theme to Three’s Company, a sitcom that ran for eight seasons. Were you a fan? Not when it originally ran as I am too young, but I’ve enjoyed late-night reruns.

2) The Three’s Company theme was composed by Joe Raposo, who also wrote the theme to Sesame Street. Can you recall any of the lyrics to the Sesame Street song? Just the title-drop line.

3) The lyrics to this song invite you to “come and knock on our door.” What’s the last door you knocked on (or the most recent doorbell your rang)? Huh, I’m not sure. I guess it would’ve been my parents’ house–I think my husband and I were over there recently and I forgot my keys. I normally let myself in.

4) Three’s Company was about three roommates who live together platonically, sharing a two bedroom apartment. Tell us about a roommate who shared your living quarters. Eh, I don’t have interesting roommate stories. I mean, except maybe the time I roomed with my best friend junior and senior year of college and she was on new migraine medication that she had a bad reaction to–they made her hallucinate, starting off with small things she thought were migraine auras and gradually escalating until one night, she said, “If I saw a man standing over your bed, would you want me to tell you?” and I said, “No,” so she said, “Okay, then I won’t.” To this day, we think that story is hilarious.

5) Each of the roommates has a profession: Jack is a cook, Chrissy is a secretary (aka administrative assistant) and Janet is a florist. When did you last buy flowers? Almost definitely for one of my husband’s siblings in a show, but I can’t think of what it would’ve been. We haven’t been doing it for his sister in college, so maybe her last high-school musical?

6) They often meet their neighbor, Larry, at a nearby bar called The Regal Beagle. What’s the name of the establishment where you most recently enjoyed an adult beverage? I had a frozen margarita at Mad Mex over the weekend.

7) Their meddling landlord was Mr. Roper. He was cheap, nosy, and very talented at fixing things around the building. How much are you like Mr. Roper? Are you frugal? Nosy? A handy do-it-yourselfer? I can be frugal when I try, I’m 1 million precent nosy, and I can do some stuff myself. There are a few things I’d like to learn, like how to change the oil on my car.

8) Three’s Company was controversial again, more than 15 years after it ceased production. In March 2001, Nick at Nite re-edited an episode after a viewer called, alerting the network that a bit too much of John Ritter was visible in his blue boxer shorts. Have you ever called, emailed or written to, a TV station to complain? No, or at least not about content. I’m sure I’ve expressed criticisms and displeasure over social media, though, but generally if I’m doing that, I’m talking about the quality of the show as a whole and not complaining about something specific.

9) Random question — Is the screen on your cellphone cracked? Yes, but entirely around the edges, so I don’t have any frustrating cracks when I’m actually using the phone. They’re easy to ignore, which means I’ll once again put off getting a new phone as long as possible.