Monday, November 28, 2022

notes & things | 11/28/2022


I am not sure I am at the alright part yet, but today felt a little bit like normal, or a new normal.  Last night found me crying on the bus on the way home thinking about being without parents, which seems like you are without anyone worry about you (which is silly, since obviously friends and partners care about your safety and well-being, but perhaps never so fervently as parents.) The hole left by the death of my dad is maybe a smaller hole than the gaping chasm left by my mother, but is still a hole and still bottomless, or at least it seems so at the moment.

Last week was doozy, with both the funeral and Thanksgiving happening right next to each other and not really feeling like I had my bearings at all.  I cried last night crawling into my own bed the first time since Thursday and being so fucking glad to be home after a chaotic weekend. I need stability and quiet and cats and all the familiar things.  Today, getting up and starting my writing day, I was feeling a little bit better moving evenly paced through work without the crunch of the past month of trying to finish things in half the usual time. I looked at the calendar and realized it had been a month on Saturday since my dad wound up in the hospital, a month of this particular slow-burn horror. I intend not to leave my apartment for at least a week.  

I am getting used to fatherlessness much as I struggled to get used to motherlessness. I was at the house this weekend, which is a kind of excavation but also a kind of erasure. In my dad's office that used to be my sister's bedroom, I found an entire drawer of remotes to appliances we no longer owned. Books on birds, fishing, and casinos, probably most of which I'd bought him. A stash of golf tees in a cup with something about fathers and golfing that I tossed in the trash. The house has been hollowing out steadily, but already, there are rooms that feel not at all inhabited by us.  I once wondered why my mother and aunt threw my grandmother's glorious costume jewelry into a fire, but I kind of get it. Some stuff will be donated, of course, or given away, trashed, or maybe burned. Since my apartment is already full of too much stuff I want very little.  Last week, I took a  book on bird lore and some photos of my mom as a kid not in the albums. This week, a  watercolor I gave her as a gift that has been on the wall above my dad's chair for over a decade. Everything there seems too heavy, to both carry back on the bus and to carry just in general. I have to be selective or die under the weight of it.

So much stuff, even despite several thinning outs.  My mom threw out or passed on a lot of our stuff when they re-carpeted a couple decades ago, and my dad cleared out much after her death. But still, several decades of decor and thrifted stuff and hand-me-downs were still there. Cupboards full of platters and dishes for parties that were never going to happen again. Broken appliances and random cables.  Its a well-used house, cheaply built in the 80s, so who knows if or what it can be sold for.  Particle wood cabinets and baseboards, mismatched tile and stained carpeting. Busted doors and broken fixtures. The most valuable thing is the land its on no doubt, but its also unruly land, which we saw this summer when nature overtook the carefully plotted gardens and patches carefully tended by my dad in better days. The trees keep the last summer my mom was alive.  Then a large part of another just narrowly missing the house in October before my dad's hospitalization. Like an omen. Or the birds that weirdly kept inexplicably getting in the house, four of them,  this past year.  None of it good. 

Thanksgiving, like it did five years ago, felt off kilter and a little like ripping off a bandaid too soon, so I don't know about Christmas or what we'll be doing if anything at all since the old structures and traditions, will need revising into a new shape around the holes that are left. Maybe that means entirely new traditions, or revisions of old ones, I'm not sure.  It's hard to believe its December even at all since mentally I am stuck somewhere back in October before everything slid sideways. I intend to unpack some new Amazon holiday things and the tree from my entryway closet tonight and attempt to fake it til I make it anyway. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

notes & things | 11/20/2022

I am still feeling a little like the world is unreal these days.  Yesterday, I looked out and could have sworn I was trapped in a furiously shaken snow globe.  By the time I made coffee, it had dwindled to a few flurries.  It gets so dark so early, and I sleep so late, usually till around noon, , that it seems there are a few scarce hours of daylight before nightfall. I'd intended to write all day to get a jump on work for this week where I'll be traveling a bit and away for the holiday, but instead I had a long, long phone call with a friend I'd only been texting the last few months and it felt good to catch up on all her misfortunes (her own family and pet deaths) and my misfortunes. We both agreed to bury 2022 forever and never speak of it again. This summer, I'd been very happy, and some good things (personal, professional) had developed in late October  I will talk about later, but the price of good fortune was the exact opposite it seems.  Autumn has been positively Greek in its hubris.

Tuesday is my dad's memorial service, when we will placing both his ashes and my mother's, which have been on the mantle for the past 5 years, in the ground of the plots they owned since around the time they got married. It is all moving very fast and I have yet to catch my breath or spend much time with my thoughts.  I've mostly been working furiously and napping frequently in equal measure. I have to keep reminding myself that its the holiday season, that Thanksgiving is this week.  I am not really feeling it, but am hoping to fake it til I make it, procuring new garlands and stockings from Amazon for my bookshelf, some new evergreen sprigs for some vases. I was going to just wait til I get back to the city next Sunday, but I may just put it up tomorrow. 

I write this post now as I would normally be embroiled in my twice-weekly call with my dad, an hour I have cautiously watched approach on the clock on all day as I did the usual Sunday things like sweep the floors and clean up the kitchen. The past few years, he had taken over where my mother had left off on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  I have always been grateful for that time, mostly since the previous 20-ish odd years of living away from them had involved very little phone convo with him, since my mom liked to do the talking for both of them with him occasionally chiming in from the other side of the room. Only when she was really sick and the delirium had set in did he take over. It was sort of like getting to know someone new, but also very familiar.  I am not quite sure what I will do with myself, especially on Sundays when the 6pm call was so engrained in my schedule my entire adult life.  We would talk about meals and streaming and what was going on there.  About his cat, (who at 17, passed away recently as well while he was in the hospital, and we were at least glad that we did not have to share this with my dad.)

Though I suppose life is all about finding new routines and structures, but it feels like, though I cling to my structures and routines like a life raft, they sometimes fail me. I don't know what my new Sunday nights will look like going forward.  Maybe I should just plunge myself into writing and work and when I emerge into 2023, things will look a little less lost.  

Thursday, November 17, 2022

the body and its failing machine

November persists and does as November does. On Saturday, we watched my father's last labored breaths, and though the drug cocktail (morphine and ativan) he was on in the final moments was supposedly designed to increase comfort and ease the transition (to what none of us knows), it was still jarring to watch the breath drain out of his worn-out lungs. Because the lungs, for whatever reason, were the things giving out, which meant that he was fully mentally present, but sedated at turns, in all of it...the hospitalization, the two weeks of ventilation that was hoped to give him a chance to recover after trouble breathing but did not do so in the end, leaving him completely trapped on the machine.  

The UTI infection that landed him in the hospital and made him incredibly weak set the stage and a bacterial infection in the lungs caused, they believe, by asperated food that led to pneumonia.  In a normal person, probably not a death sentence, but in an 81-year-old man already frail and thin and so very weak, it meant the end. An end we, and some very hopeful hospital staff, tried to prologue with medical technology, but ultimately failed. We'd been warned about tough decisions--to take off the ventilator and hope he pulled through, or to leave him bed-bound in a nursing home on it forever. The latter, not an option, especially since it already felt like we were pushing the bounds of what he'd have wanted with the ventilator in the first place--because for a minute, it seemed like getting off it and getting better was still an option. He often spoke with the horror of my great-grandmother Chloe's last few months bed- bound in long term care, and wanted anything but. But for a couple weeks, we believed recovery could still happen, the original infection that had weakened him cured by antibiotics. But the strain on the body--the weakness, the malnourishment, made him a sitting duck for other nasties. That acknowledgment, that it wasn't going to happen, which slowly sank in Saturday morning after the doctor's final trial off the machine failed, was the hardest part.

So on Saturday afternoon, with some of the family around in the form of cousins and his remaining siblings, we said goodbye without trying to seem, to him too much,  like we were saying goodbye, chatting about western tv shows on the set above, endless pharma commercials,  and chocolate chip cookie recipes (whether milk chocolate was an acceptable alternative to semi-sweet or dark) as he slowed and drained. He'd been awake for a few moments, wide-eyed and clasping our hands with a tenacious grip, having come out of the sedation they'd mostly kept him under the past two weeks, but unable to speak, to only gesture with his hands--to wave us away, I swear, or maybe just to wave goodbye. Then motioning for someone to raise the bed.  He stared for a while at the ceiling as the drugs fully kicked in. Maybe a half hour.  I was turned talking to my aunt and when  I looked up and his chest had stopped moving and moments later, the nurse confirmed his pulse was gone.

I count myself lucky or unlucky that I lost my grandparents early--some early to cancer, or to freak accident-induced blood clots like my grandmother-- most of them in childhood with the exception of my paternal grandfather who we were not particularly close with due to distance and divorce (he later succumbed to fast spreading cancer). When my mother died, it felt unexpected, though she was riddled with so many cascading health problems (the heart attack, legs ravaged by a latex allergy that failed to heal, the deep infection in her foot that led to delirium) in the months before her heart gave out. I was convinced she was getting better, up to a point, but she was not. The end was therefore completely a surprise and not a surprise. I was also not there to see it happen. 

My dad, for most of his life, despite the same seizure disorder my sister has, was pretty healthy right up til the last few months. His pain in his legs and back (he called it sciatica, though the doctors believe it was more like arthritis) had gotten worse in the past year, necessitating a cane or walker, but he was still reasonably spry. Though recently, the falls had become more frequent and while not injured, he had trouble getting up the last couple weeks he was home. Once, he was rescued by the Amazon delivery guy when he fell trying to get up the steps. The next time, the EMTs.  His appetite had taken a plummet and though he talked often about food on the phone weekly, was not eating enough of it, rendering a man who had always been thinner than the rest of us, much too thin. All of these things made him frail and vulnerable, and in classic Bowen fear, convinced he had cancer and not wanting to know (he did not). My sister tricked him into hospitalization by promising a routine doctor visit. He was doing well a couple days in, but then stopped being able to breathe on his own due to secretions building up in his lungs.

With a family of people taken out by a host of other things, he is perhaps lucky to have lived to be 81, when I suppose the body just begins to give out like a well-used car.  If the other ailments don't get us, the steady unwinding of our internal clocks will get us all the same despite our best efforts. There is still the sense of unrealness, even though unlike my mother, I was there to see it happen. I hope this means he will not turn up in my dreams later, not knowing he's gone, which happened for a good year after losing my mother. Also that usual strange relief wave that comes as the backside of grief--that the very worst thing that can happen has already happened. But mostly both hating and marveling at the body's machinery and the unfairness of an active mind caught within its cage of it and unable to stop its failure even with medical machines and hospital professionals and still the expiration date marked on all of us. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

notes & things | 11/9/2022

We are now in that dark dip in November, always a tricky place and moreso in recent years.  With my dad still in the hospital and the outcome still uncertain, this week we hit the 5 year anniversary of my mother's death and I am just trying to triage feelings and mounting work and general anxiety that is knife sharp and occasionally bleeds out all over the room and people around me. Or it doesn't and I feel alone inside it like a dark lake and I am looking for a board or a broken door to float on. There are no poems here, there isn't time, and outside of some orders, DGP work has been shelved for the coming weeks in favor of getting things done to get paid and pay rent and shit. In between, there are weekly trips to Rockford, which always makes me want to crawl out of my skin--even before illnesses and hospitalizations and this unbearably early dark. I find I have to be away from home base when I also feel I really need to be here--for the structure, for the cats, for some semblance of normality, yet if things go awry, I also want to spend more time with my dad, especially he's unable to turn this around. Without structure, I am completely ragged and wind-tattered most of the time. I feel completely ill-equipped for almost everything. The time there is a vaccuum descend into and re-emerge.  This past weekend, a horrific scene in the waiting room that had nothing to do with me rattled me more than I'd like. 

I've put a pin in AUTOMAGIC release since poetry is not where my head is, though some may argue that is exactly where it needs to be, but I just can't right now. I still have to make final corrections and adjustments and order the final copies, so maybe in a few weeks I'll feel more like it. Poetry seems pale and inconsequential.  Like a game I play sometimes for stupid prizes There are other good things happening in the wings of the current tragic stage, both personal and professional (potentially) but right now I am mostly numb and poised in crash position.  I keep thinking if it were summer...not this, not this dark and cold, I could cope better. But then again, maybe not.  A friend once told me it was worse to suffer depression in summertime. Like you weren't supposed to be sad or anxious in warm weather, but it was perfectly acceptable in colder weather. I wouldn't know since all of my low spots have occurred in fall or winter. It seems impossible for me to be sad in summer despite what LDR says..