So the time my dad was in the hospital was a lot of back and forth. Most days, we didn’t go out because he slept almost constantly. A friend of his from high school popped in one evening–Scott, our wedding DJ, matter of fact–and my dad was awake for a little bit to see him, and Scott said it wasn’t the Brian he knew. It was the Brian any of us knew, and when he was first diagnosed, my fear was basically seeing him exactly the way we did, weak and thin and barely eating. It felt like being with a little kid some days. If one of us was there, my mom would usually go home for a bit with instructions to pay attention to what he ate and try to get him to eat a little more. We’d use Eliana to manipulate him, essentially. If he said he was full after a few bites of yogurt, we’d say, “Take another bite for Eliana,” and that generally worked.

The goal was to get him well enough to travel to Philadelphia for a new kind of treatment, but it just wasn’t working. There were a lot of emotional ups and downs while he was in the hospital–one day, he’d be doing well and looking at going home soon, the next he’d say he was ready to give up. Ultimately, when he was weak and things were just not looking good, he decided on hospice care.

I remember thinking sometimes about how while we weren’t exactly trying to get pregnant, part of me felt like being more deliberate about it, essentially rushing things to cram in as much as possible while he was still here. And now, having passed the frustrating, nausea-filled first trimester, I can’t imagine if it actually would’ve happened and how difficult it would’ve been to be pregnant with a terminally ill parent and ultimately going through a funeral. Sometimes, I’m the type who believes that things work out the way they’re supposed to, and this was one of those times. Because between Brandon and I, I have the more flexible job in terms of getting time off and at the time, he had a new baby and I did not. I could count on Paul to handle things like the house and cats while I did things like dog-sit…

…and help my mom with hospice care. The joys of being the elder child with fewer responsibilities, sort of.

So they brought him in, and I mostly wrangled the dog while he got settled. He was transported by ambulance, and I remember my mom worrying about the little girl across the street getting upset if she saw. She loves their dog, and she always said hi to my dad while he was out.

And then my mom, Uncle Eric, and I sat around the dining-room table while the nurse went over all of the care information. Uncle Eric was a medic in the military and worked as an EMT for a while in the last several years, so he was there both as an older brother and as a good go-between who understood more of the medical side than we did. I’ve mentioned some of these details before, but I remember thinking it was really bizarre to be talking about all this right down the hall from someone who was essentially dying. But I was also grateful, in a weird way, that when the subject of things like a Do Not Resuscitate Order came up, we were all on the same page and level-headed–not that it was’t a difficult conversation, but that we were realistic about what we knew he would want and what we thought made sense. At least from my perspective, why keep someone hanging on when the cancer is going to win eventually anyway? It felt selfish. It would’ve been for us, not him.

Also, for the record, although he was ultimately only home a few days until he died and I only interacted with two hospice nurses myself, they were both angels–nice, sympathetic, and as far as I can tell, great at their jobs. It has to be really hard work, but at far as my interactions went, they were supportive and helpful.

He was set up in my former bedroom. I popped in before I left and gave him a hug, exchanged a few words since he was awake, and headed home. It was the last time I saw him awake and talked to him.

On my way home while I was listening to the radio, a live version of “Landslide” came on that starts with Stevie Nicks dedicating it to her dad. I cried. Thanks, universe, you dick.

 

Some of the days that my dad was in the hospital were chaotic, especially at first. The second day, to help my mom out, we drove out and took my parents’ dog for a walk up in the mountains, then spent a few hours at the hospital. We’d kind of go in shifts–my mom was there a lot, of course, and if someone else was there, she at least felt like she could go home for a bit.

When he first went in, he mostly needed fluids and they felt they could release him, but my parents opted to keep him there overnight to get some rest. Somehow, though, he ended up getting worse. There were a lot of ups and downs–one day, he’d be doing a lot better and they’d talk about sending him home, the next he needed more care. And he started sleeping a ton at a certain point, to where visiting was mostly whoever was there sitting talking amongst themselves. After a few days, my mom told us not to worry about coming out during the week since we had an hour-long drive to get there.

The back and forth we did do, though, meant a lot of eating out. After the trip to the mountains, we realized we hadn’t really eaten all day and had dinner at a Mexican place in town before visiting Paul’s parents at home, because might as well if it’s all in the same area.

In the midst of this, our siding was finally getting redone, after having started that process in the spring. What was supposed to be a few weeks before they got started turned into months when they got backed up and when our original sales rep messed up our order, which another rep came out to fix. So our old, faded green siding got pulled down and replaced with nice, new light grey, with a dark-blue trim around the windows. And at some point, I remember going outside to admire and thinking, “My dad is never going to see this.”

So it turns out that I left off on the life updates talking about Julie’s wedding and Katie announcing her pregnancy, and I mentioned in that post that getting pregnant hadn’t happened for us yet. Turns out I was pregnant when I wrote that and didn’t know!

In the months since, Meri went from El Paso to back here for the summer to D.C., and I went to dinner in Pittsburgh with her and Marissa one night in late July when Meri was bringing her cats up. We started at this really good little sushi place, had a nice dinner and conversation, then moved to a bar for a couple of drinks and hung out pretty late–late enough that Marissa needed something to eat and we ended up at a fried-chicken place close to 1 AM. And then I drove about an hour back home. Woof.

As it turned out, about the time I was getting home and going to bed, my parents were heading to the hospital, and from there, it was all downhill for my dad. He’d started having some issues overnight–at this point, I can’t remember what–and wanted to go to the hospital, and he was so weak that my mom had to bring the car around front and help him. She called around 7 in the morning, so we spent some time at the hospital later that day.

But at the time, my dad’s condition was better–my parents just opted to keep him in the hospital to get him some rest and fluids, both of which he was having trouble getting at home. The plan then was to get him out to Philly for new treatments. We knew by then the chemo had done nothing, and he was so close to his appointment. It was a matter of him being strong enough to go, but that never happened. In fact, he died about two weeks later. It’s weird still, and it’s weird to think that that first day looked fairly optimistic.

On top of that, that first day in the hospital was Paul’s birthday. I wish I could give everyone perfect birthdays, and this was just a rough one. But with things looking okay, we did head into Pittsburgh. He wanted to see the latest John Wick movie, and as much as it must suck spending your birthday with your father-in-law in the hospital, I could tell the movie at least raised his spirits some.

Of course, we didn’t know then that it was pretty much the beginning of the end and the start of a downhill slide.

 

And Baby Makes Three

The signs have there over the past few weeks–mentions of being tired, not having had alcohol since November, not feeling well, having news that I wasn’t ready to share…

2019 was a ridiculous year. In order, my husband found out he was losing his job to Mexico (the transition is still in progress over a year later…), my dad was diagnosed with cancer, my niece was born, my dad died, and then, just when things got back to normal, I got pregnant!

A friend of mine was turning 30 and having a party at her house, my period was late, and I was sure I wasn’t pregnant. Bur rather than go to a party and drink, I figured I ought to be super sure. So I peed on a stick, got distracted by Paul calling me while running errands, and let it sit a little too long–I was that confident I’d get a negative. Instead, I saw a very, very faint second line, so faint that I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. Erring on the side of caution, I didn’t drink at the party. I took a second test when we got home, and same thing–a line so faint that I wouldn’t have even seen it if I hadn’t looked closely.

It was Veteran’s Day weekend, and the next morning, we were meeting up with my mom, Brandon, Kelly, and baby Eliana to visit my dad’s grave and have lunch for Brandon’s birthday. As a doting auntie, I seize any opportunity to be all over Eliana, so when we were at the restaurant, I went right for her. Brandon has this running joke of saying to me, “Get your own baby!” so this time, when he did, I said, “Well…” and explained. Kelly happened to still have pictures of her positive pregnancy test and showed them to me to compare, and they were nearly identical. I figured I’d wait a week and retest.

And then, within 24 hours, morning sickness hit. Well, not morning sickness, exactly, more like evening sickness, but the typical pregnancy symptoms started appearing. Up to that point, I’d only had two hints that I was pregnant–one, my boobs hurt, which they normally do on my period so I dismissed it, and two, a sort of tight feeling in my stomach every so often. I did test again, mostly as a formality, and sure enough, that one was a very clear positive.

I’d been a little bummed that I hadn’t gotten pregnant up to that point, but man, getting a positive test is still kind of terrifying. My first thought, truly, was “Oh, fuck,” then, “I’m too young,” then, “That makes no damn sense, idiot, you’re 30.” It’s a strange mix of excitement and paralyzing fear that tend to alternate, although lately, excitement dominates, especially as we tell more and more people and everyone gets really excited. And then sometimes I feel like I’m not excited enough, like when I hear other women talk about miscarrying or infertility, like I’m taking it for granted. And then I think that this is probably some fucked-up thing that society does to women and that we do to ourselves–my kid isn’t even born yet and already I’m feeling pressure.

Similarly, I’ve thought a lot about the practice of not making an announcement until after the first trimester, when the chance of miscarriage drops dramatically. I understand the reasons for it. It allows you to control what you share, with whom, and when, which I think is very valuable and powerful. For me, if something had happened–and if something were to happen yet–frankly, I’d probably write about it anyway. And yet, with all that I knew logically, it hard not to think about if something happened that it would be my fault, that it would be something I did wrong, and that I’d be ashamed to acknowledge it, despite having zero of these thoughts when it comes to other women I know who have miscarried. It was so easy to get in my own head about it. Part of me wonders how much holding off on sharing the news might just be contributing to the stigma.

And, as it turned out, someone we know did miscarry and was just a few weeks further along in her pregnancy than I was at the time. I won’t go into details because it’s not mine to share, but someone, knowing this woman had just miscarried, chose to still tell them about my pregnancy. Paul and I didn’t know about it at the time, but I was livid when we did find out. It was about the most insensitive way to go about it, and had I known–and frankly, if she didn’t want us to know at all, that would be fair–I would’ve made it clear we wanted to give her time and space, as she deserved.

Otherwise, things have been going pretty smooth. I had a lot of nausea and some vomiting a couple times a week, and I’ve slept plenty, but over the past two weeks, I’ve felt more like myself. I was really knocked on my ass for a while, to the point that I wasn’t even keeping up with Netflix shows or reading. You’d think that those would be prime activities to enjoy in bed, but many times, I either just wanted to sleep or lie down and not focus on anything at all. Sometimes this was because of rough headaches, sometimes it wasn’t.

Looking ahead, I schedule my first ultrasound in two weeks. We do intend to find out the gender but will not do a gender reveal–we’ll probably just casually tell people. My mom is sure it’s a girl, as how I’ve felt so far is on track with how she felt when she was pregnant with me, and her pregnancy with me brother was different. Paul has been very, very picky about names, which I knew would happen. I’ve been joking from the start we’ll need the whole nine months to agree on a name. Of the dozens I’ve mentioned, he has liked two, both girl names, and singled out one as the frontrunner, but we still don’t have a boy name. We’re keeping the name semi-secret, mostly because I don’t want talked out of it. Not because we’re leaning towards the super weird and unconventional or a normal name with an absurd spelling, but just because I don’t want some people, like, say, certain in-laws, for example, talking us out of it if they dislike it.

All in all, being pregnant is scary and weird and cool and mind-blowing all at the same time.

Although Julie and Michael got married in Erie in May, they had a small reception/picnic back here at the end of July at a rec center nearby.

(Paul and I kicked off that weekend at a brewery that had this cucumber beer that I absolutely loved and sadly only drank that one time the entire summer.)

We were on cookie duty, as usual–Julie loves these strawberry ones I make, and his chocolate-chip ones are a family favorite–so that was how we spent our Friday night and Saturday morning before heading to his parents’ house for a nice dinner with nearly all of us. Emily’s girlfriend came to town, the two of us plus Jacob and Katie headed over, and we basically spent most of our evening in the pool. It was the perfect day for it, and we were content to cool off and talk.

The perk of having fallen so behind here is that in the couple months since, this information has since been announced officially, so I’m good repeating here.

So we were in the pool, as adults indulging in adult beverages, and naturally, I had to pee. I waited about as long as I could, then sucked it up and headed inside, where Katie and Jacob were, having just arrived. Katie said, “I have something for you!” and handed me this little bag with a smile on her face, and I was suspicious. Inside was a baby’s shirt–Katie’s pregnant! She’d already presented his parents with it, and my timing made me the first of the siblings/in-laws to find out.

And then my torture began. Of course I wasn’t gonna run back out to the pool and tell everybody, but that meant I had to go back, play it cool–which I think I did well, except for the occasional very impatient utterances of, “They need to get out here”–and wait for them. And they took their sweet time. Not necessarily intentionally to make me squirm, mind you, although Jacob definitely knew I was and definitely kind of enjoyed it.

When they did come out, they were kind of waiting for a good moment, and it never really came. It was kind of fun by that point–I knew and was waiting for when they’d drop the bomb, and if I remember right, Katie was gonna go use the bathroom herself when I was like, “Well, before you do…” so she decided to announce it then, and of course, only half of them were paying attention. Emily rectified that pretty fast.

They since used their anniversary to announce it on Facebook.

Typically, the etiquette would be to not announce this at someone’s wedding, even if it is a relatively informal reception, but Julie would much, much rather know than be made to wait. And she was so excited that even to me, it was worth it.

Paul and I are looking forward to become an aunt and uncle again, of course. In fact, if a sibling could have a baby every year or so until this becomes totally unreasonable, that would be super fun.

As for us, it just hasn’t happened yet. Not actively trying, not actively preventing, but I am a little surprised that so far, nothing.

The wedding party–they weren’t really calling it a reception–itself was laid back and fun with great food Julie and Michael made themselves. The favors were bottles of their homemade wine, which we still haven’t opened, but I look forward to when we do. I’ve spent a couple nights at their place drinking far too much of that wine.

And because I’m me, I had tickets to see The Struts that night. In my defense, I didn’t plan it that way. Julie was originally aiming for the following weekend and I already had the tickets when it got moved up a week, but because it started early in the afternoon so they could hit the road back for Erie before it got late, we had plenty of time to head home for me to cover myself in glitter to prepare. Turns out it probably wasn’t enough glitter.

Brandon was gonna go with me originally but ended up having drill, and Kelly was welcome to but didn’t, probably because of Eliana. So I got Paul to go instead. The Struts put on such a good show that I’m confident taking people who aren’t super familiar with them.

I’ve sung the band’s praises before and then did it again on my Medium blog, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much, but shit, do I love that band, especially live. They’re so fun, so energetic, and have just the right amount of glam, hence my glitter quest.

And then, a few days later, Meri was back in town, so I went out with her and Marissa.

I have already mentioned this, but I decided to start writing about music over on Medium, and although current inspiration over there has run dry temporarily, I’m only just now getting around to the last few months, when I kind of dropped off other posting here.

One of those things that overlaps, though, was going to see Rocketman, which was very good, and driving to Ohio for Anberlin’s reunion tour.

I cover much of this in my post on Medium, but it went like this: my brother and I have loved Anberlin since we were teenagers, but they called it quits a few years ago and we never made it to the farewell tour. It never came to Pittsburgh, and neither of us was really in a position to travel for it. But one day, Brandon happened to notice that they’d mysteriously updated their social-media pictures, which these days only means one thing. Sure enough, they eventually announced a reunion tour, but like the farewell tour, there was no Pittsburgh date.

We missed the farewell tour. We weren’t gonna miss the reunion. We narrowed down a few cities within reasonable driving distance but settled on Cleveland, in large part because it was July 3 and we’d both have the next day off of work. It’s also a pretty short, easy drive, considering.

My only concern was that by the time the show rolled around, Brandon would have a baby just over a month old and would have just returned from a nearly month-long military training trip, and although Kelly gave him the go-ahead and only asked that we not get a hotel and stay overnight, I thought maybe she’d change her mind, and honestly, if she had, I wouldn’t have blamed her. She was well, well within her rights to say, “You’ve been gone for almost a month and we have a new baby, you are absolutely not going to a concert with your sister while I stay home.” I even made sure to only do e-tickets in case she did change her mind, that way I’d have a much easier time reselling them. Not that she’s that type, just that, again, new baby. But bless her, it didn’t happen, and Brandon came to my house the afternoon of the show, we grabbed some supplies, and hit the road.

Now, ticketing apps haven’t been great with differentiating between when doors open and when the first band hits the stage. Generally, doors open an hour before, and because I couldn’t find a time listed elsewhere, I assumed that the time listed was the start time and that doors were an hour prior to that. I was wrong. The good news was that our supply run took longer than expected, so we got there later than expected, and rather than arriving after doors opened like I thought, we were actually there a half-hour before. I was pretty happy about this.

The show was amazing. We sang every word, we screamed, we danced, we gaped at each other with every beloved song in the set–including those really early ones that got us into Anberlin to begin with. It was a perfect night, really. We had so much fun, we were back in front of a band that defined our teen years, truly, and that we’ve never stopped loving, and it felt just like we were there again. And that’s not a matter of nostalgia or wishing we were still teenagers, because believe me, I do not wish I was still a teenager, but rather a statement about just how much Anberlin has meant to us over the years and how not only has that not changed, but the band played like they’d never been gone. At best, I was in my early 20s the last time we saw them, maybe even my late teens, depending on the tour, and here we were, both there again, this time with me newly 30, both of us with spouses at home–in my case, in our house–and him with a baby, too.

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It was worth the excitement, the money, and the drive. Worth the wait? Nah, I’d have much rather spent the last few years hitting Anberlin shows once or twice a year like we used to. But whatever. I’m glad they’re back, one way or another.

And look, it was a nice sibling night, too. I mean, outside of the show, we had a couple hours in a car each way and over an hour waiting in line, so plenty of talking was done.

We got in around 2 in the morning, which is honestly not terrible under the circumstances, and Brandon told me the next day he was still too amped up to sleep when he got home. As for me, I passed right out.

Paul and I spent the 4th chilling at home and running errands, mostly, and spent the next few days getting dinner in Washington, hitting brunch in Pittsburgh, shopping, and tending to the garden.

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.

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.

 

It was a weekend full of parties.

On Friday night, we kicked off the weekend with a small party at our house as a double birthday celebration for me, on my 30th, and Paul’s friend from work Andrew, who turned 31 on Sunday. We seized the opportunity to use our deck and had good food and lots of wine and hung out for a few hours. Ringing in 30 was a great success.

But of course, there are a ton of summer birthdays in our family, so on Saturday, there was a surprise party for my cousin Casey, also turning 30–her actual birthday is today. So we spent a few hours over at my aunt and uncle’s house, and Casey was sufficiently surprised. She didn’t even know that Sammi, who lives in New York, was in for the weekend and didn’t find out until she walked into the house and saw us all there.

After the party, we made our belated Father’s Day rounds, starting with my parents’ house for a little bit before heading over to Paul’s parents’ place just in time for dinner. After another couple hours there, we headed home.

On Sunday, the miraculous third consecutive day of sunshine after never-ending rain, we got some yard work done when we could before heading out to a party again, this time a graduation party for one of Paul’s cousins. We had a good time hanging out there until the evening, at which point I, still feeling under the weather from my cold last week, got Paul to squeeze in one last round of cutting grass at the back of the house before the sun set.

And now, somehow, I’ve managed to get sick again, except this time the trouble is mostly digestive. I almost feel like I have a mild flu–I was really tired all day today with body aches, and although things seem to have improved at this point in the evening, I’m frustrated. Things need done and I don’t have the energy, and I’ve already not seen Eliana for a few weeks and am worried that if I’ve come down with something new that’s  not short-lived, I’m not gonna see her for another week or so yet. I was really set on making it happen this weekend, too, so I’m not gonna be happy if it doesn’t work out.

Other potential weekend plans include a small get-together at our house I like to call “We Had a Party Last Weekend and Everyone Brought Wine, So Now We Have Too Much Wine, Please Come Drink Some,” or maybe a trip to Phipps, or maybe a trip to the art museum. They both have things going on right now I really want to see, but the good news is both are ongoing through the summer, so I’ve got time.

Of course, we’re not ones to miss the local Greek food festival, so Paul mentioned it to a friend at work and he and his wife joined us for a nice evening of delicious Greek food. All were happy.

For dessert, we headed into town. For starters, the city’s monthly First Friday was underway, and although I wanted to check out the vendors, I didn’t make it in time. But we did get to enjoy ice cream at a little deli right in town that smartly stays open whenever something like that is going on in town. Downtown was also featuring a car show through Saturday afternoon with most of the same vendors as First Friday, so I figured I’d hit it then, but I ended up getting there just a bit too late for that, too.

So in need of a haircut because I can’t get to Emily for a little while, I went and got that taken care of. I’m glad to have it tamed a little and my undercut freshly buzzed for the summer months. Paul ran some errands while I was in there, and then from there, we headed to a graduation party for one of his cousin’s, where I mostly spent my evening hanging out with his sister and drinking much wine.

It’s been a good few weeks, maybe even a month at this point, since we made it to one of Dom and Tina’s brunches, but they did one on Sunday so we ventured up into Pittsburgh for very delicious breakfast sandwiches and a great selection of season iced teas. And to drop off recycling, of course.

In between all that, there was cutting grass and planting a few new veggies in the garden. This weekend, it’s back to Pittsburgh for the arts festival…and maybe brunch again. Who knows?