Wednesday, June 29, 2011


in the week before i flew to seattle to see my dad i found a lucky penny nearly every single day. not every day, but in a week i collected 5. parking lots, sidewalks, the gutter. i picked them up and made a singular wish. the same one i always make on dandelions and shooting stars and rocks tossed into the sea. of course lately that wish has a bit of a flourish at the end.

when i got to seattle and would bring coffee and meds down to my father in the morning (while he was still at my sister's house) i kid you not somewhere in the two rooms he was in i would find a penny. just there. on the ground. every.single.time.

i am thinking about the pennies as i rub my father's back in the VA. he's in his favorite position, a kind of doubled over yoga pose. he has a theory about this position. i know this because he lectured to me for nearly 20 minutes this morning on his theory.

and i didn't mind, i just listened. happy that he can do this again, have theories and give lectures as his pain has finally somewhat been managed, he is somewhat comfortable, he has color, he has humor. my father is my father again, and i just bask in it moment by moment.

he has lost so much weight that it doesn't take much movement to cover his back. up and back, a scratch here and there. but he is still strong, i feel that. and whether that's strength of muscle or spirit it's hard to say. and really doesn't matter.

he looks good now. the big windows with the million dollar view don't hurt. but it's mostly the fact that by dosing him up with a metric assload of morphine and adding in cocktails of various other white pills he is able to relax a bit. to get some sleep. he reported that he even dreamed the night before. eating still isn't high on the activity list, but he does what he can. and you take what you can get.

my father looks like a man one might find sitting cross legged at the edge of the ganges. holding court. dispensing wisdom and experience to all who ask and all who don't. doctors, nurses, techs, social workers, the former historian and now custodian who comes to sweep the floor. my father looks like the guru he has become. the guru of the VA. he looks like gary snyder.

'dad, you look like gary snyder.'

'oh? well. i'll take that as a compliment.'

'you should.'

i am rubbing his back and thinking about how odd it is that we are so present and relaxed. my father and i. how our journey has been rocky at best at times, and yet was also marked by the sheer wonder and beauty that is the parent child relationship. and it's not lost on me that for the first time in my life i am physically stronger than my father. that even in my curvy softness i could take him. and somewhere deep and ancient and inside the eight year old silly mortal is shouting YES! and throwing a fist up in the air.

but none of that really matters. at all. not now. as it turns out, the balance of a life is just that...a balance. that in the end, any one period of time doesn't take precedence over another. the mistrusts and missteps are just that and no more. the cataloging is done.

i understand also that what this is, me in this hospital rubbing my father's back , that what this is is me being given a gift. that this is grace here on earth. and just like those pennies i am so very lucky. to have made the journey and been able to rest at the end of it with my father.

my wise friend ingrid always likes to say 'only love prevails.' i understand that in a way i only theoretically did before. i understand that in a way that cannot be explained or ignored. i understand. and as i rub my father's back i close my eyes and lift my face upwards in thanksgiving.

we are, all of us, martyrs and saints, devils and angels, we are good and bad, and sometimes we are definitely ugly. there are moments as divine as can be, and low moments that level and break us. rendering us knee bound and groveling. we are pain and heartbreak and love and light. and all of this is so and necessary, because in the end there is a balance. no tally, no score. just balance. in the end it all makes sense. it really really does.

i don't know much about heaven. so i don't know if those pennies were from heaven as they like to say. i do know that they are a tangible sign of what is always around us. the abundance and the good. the richness of life. we just have to be willing to do a little bending to grab it.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011


yesterday morning i had to tell my father it wasn't working here at home (my sister's house). that he would be better managed pain wise and comfort wise back in the hospital. i didn't have to say it, but we both know that meant he'd be going in and not coming back out.

this couldn't have come as too much of a surprise, but you know it was. he didn't wake up knowing this was it. i feel bad. but this is for the best.

he asked to nap and wake him at 1pm. he bathed and shaved. he dressed carefully in his good pants and nice sweater. his scarf. inexplicably, he's taken to wearing a black stetson.

we get to the VA and go through a maze until we find the right spot to talk to his oncologist. and it becomes apparent how fucked up the VA is when my sister receives a call while we are in the waiting room, five minutes early for the appointment:

'this is the VA calling, is your father aware he has an appointment today?'

'yes. we're here now. in the waiting room.'

they come out and call him. apparently for the first time in FOREVER they are ahead of schedule and he's already late for an appointment he's early for.

we go back to a windowless room. the by the book doctor comes in and asks him questions. my father answers them all wrong.

no he is not eating 3 meals a day. try 3 bites. he answers the pain question right but downplays it. he is not as strong as he tries to appear. oh my god we talked about this! he knew what was up before we came! i know why he's doing this. because he can't really remember and because he doesn't want to stay. this is the cancer version of cock blocking.

my sister starts to look worried. he needs to stay. this is better for him. she can't do this anymore. she's been working so hard caring for him. it's getting too hard to care for him in the way he needs.

dr. c comes in. dr. c is straight out of a 70s cigarette ad. or a porno. i don't like dr. c. he is brusque and has zero bedside manner. i decide it's definitely a porno. he'd never make it in the cigarette ad.

he tells my father what we all know, that he's not well enough to withstand even a bit of chemo. but that if he puts on weight and blah blah blah he might be able to.

by now my sister is getting that panicked look on her face. and i am not sure what to do. i told my father what was decided and he's trying to block it. my sister is talking but not saying what she wants to because this is so so hard. and how do you say i can't do this anymore to your father? i don't have a relationship with these doctors. and i am leaving in two days. i am practically an interloper here.

dr. c asks him all the questions dr. by the book asked him. he answers them all wrong. but dr. c, bless his fucking heart, he looks out of the corner of his eye at me. and i shake my head no at all the questions my father is answering in the positive. my father is confused, yes. but i know he's answering the questions that way to get out of staying. he needs to stay.

and then my sister asks dr. c. if all we are doing is waiting for him to get better for chemo or worse in general. we all know it but don't say it that my father is not going to get better for chemo. we choose our words carefully. my father is dying and confused, but he's not an idiot. he is the writer with the million dollar vocabulary. this is delicate territory.

dr. c mentions hospice and that 'we' can wait to see if he gets better for chemo, and STILL use them. he can wrangle it. this means hospice at my sister's house. my sister is crestfallen. i see her face. she cannot do this. i look at my father. i see his face. better yet, i know his heart. he can't do this. doesn't want to.

something has to be done. something has to give.

so. i choose. in front of the doctors. in front of my father. i choose. and i choose my sister. just like i've always done. just like i always will.

'my father can no longer be at my sister's house.'

and it sets the ball rolling. dr. c says he'll fix it and admit my father today. dr. by the book is not pleased. hospitals are not for this kinda of thing, he says. not for the dying with no acute symptoms. as if death isn't an acute symptom. but i hear what he's saying. and he's right. but this is one of those cases. this is one of those times. dr. c clearly wants dr. by the book to shut up. moreover, he's the boss so dr. by the book is now just annoying him.

dr. c tells dr. by the book they are taking the 'conversation' outside.

the doctors start to argue in the hall. you can hear dr. by the book pleading his case for the integrity of what a hospital 'should' be used for. dr. c says 'didn't you hear her? she can't do this anymore. we have to take him. that's our job.'

i like dr. c now. go dr. c. go VA. my father served this country and he needs it to give back right now.

my father won't look at either of us.

i feel like the world's biggest asshole.

because i said the words out loud. i know deep down my father knows this is best. but on the surface, i am an asshole and now my father is here. and not leaving.

later we are taking my father up to where he had stayed before.

we walk in and it's like going somewhere with lady gaga. they call out his name. 'you're back!' they cry. everyone on the floor coming over to see him, to say hello, to touch him.

one comely nurse is asking him if he's been working on the poem he started when he was last here, 'i will now that i'm back because you're the inspiration' he tells her. one guy in scrubs is grabbing his hand and clapping him on his back, 'how are you doin' man? good to see you.' another nurse comes in to say she wants to tell him about her camping trip.

apparently, my father has not lost an ounce of his charm.

even with the big welcome and a large room with i kid you not probably the best view in seattle, this is very difficult at best. the food is slow to arrive because it arrives only at a designated time. the pain meds even slower. the doctor is young and annoying. it's loud in the hallway. and of course i wonder how we thought this was best. it is. it is. but when you're dealing with dying there comes a point when everything is second guessed. especially if you're the one doing the guessing.

we wait to see that the food is edible (always a gamble at the VA) and that he gets his pain meds. then we leave.

and i realize i can't go home in two days. not yet. there's been a change of plans. i realize i can't go home and i miss my kids and the husband so much it hurts. my father can't go home either. ever again. i wonder what he misses.

i cry on the way home. i cry in target. and then i drink too much wine and stay up too late and when that no longer works i cry myself to sleep.

and in the morning, i write. just like my dad.


Saturday, June 25, 2011


my father is a writer. as a kid, i would wake to the sound of a typewriter nearly every morning of my life. later, it was the sight of the ever present notebook in hand. he was always writing. working on something.

as it turns out, sometimes writers are not so good at recognizing or validating fellow writers. even if one of those fellow writers happens to be their own daughter.

this morning my father turned to me and said

'they say you're a pretty good writer. so it's gonna be up to you now, kid.'

and right then i thought about leonard cohen. you know, about the cracks. and the light. i thought about perfect offerings. and how it really is never too late. for anything. especially the good stuff.

i thought about grace and expansion and how sometimes the truly great things come when you least expect them. mostly when you least expect them. but that you always should. expect them. because they're always there. somewhere. i thought about a million things. and then i said

'well. i'll do my best.'

then i let out the breath i had no idea i had been holding for all these years. maybe even for 39 years and 11 months.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

since you didn't ask; day I part I

when you're in the air looking down everything is the same.

and so it goes with knowledge and reality. knowing is one thing, experiencing is quite another. it's so easy to know. it's the hands on that fucks with the balance and offers the front row glimpse into the full silly mortal.

i think about this as the plane is making its final descent. i look down and see the city and area i once loved so deeply. a city i was a newlywed in, a newly adult in, divorced in, became a mother in, almost died in, found a life in, married and built a family and a life in a house only to have it taken away in. and now, a city that will represent, in time shorter than i'd like, my greatest broken heart.

as we touch down i wish more than anything that my kids were here. to feel the duke's quiet go with it resolve, to see wingman's fully open face at the sadness and wonder and excitement of it all. to feel the husband's confident and knowing hand in mine.

i am keeping open to everything. to finding the grace, to embracing what needs my sister has been doing the heavy lifting and i am the ham handed interloper in my own extended life at this point. but i am open to it. all of it. or i will be, as soon as i can get a little sleep.

in the meantime, on the plane, i am touching down and landing. and with every fiber of my being i want to be anywhere but here. i want to shout, turn me around! there's been a mistake! i want to wake as if from one of my very real dreams. i want to be in a world where the first time i see my father in nearly five years that it is also not the last.

i wish on the stars i can't see and i call to anyone who will listen, in the tiniest 'i am in a public space' whisper, anywhere but here. right now. anywhere.

and even as i say it i know i have the luxury to do so. that all evidence to the contrary, i am so very lucky. to be here. to be. here.


Friday, June 17, 2011


i am thinking of my father as i chop the onions for dinner. my father taught me to chop an onion. actually, that's not true. he told me chopped onions went into the spaghetti sauce he taught me to make. that and garlic. then the tomatoes, then the spices. meat if you were using it came before the tomato sauce, after the onions. but he never taught me to chop an onion. i watched him chop the onion and make the sauce and the next night i had a knife in my hand and was making dinner.

i learned to properly chop an onion later. when i was an adult. with a child of my own.

i think about this as i throw the onion into the pot and it begins to sizzle.

my father has pancreatic cancer. of all the cancers to get, this isn't one of the 'good' ones. in fact, it just may be the very worst.

somehow this makes me decide that while making dal for dinner i need to make a double batch. as if i'm not 3200 miles away. as if i am going to be feeding more family than just the family here at the little yellow house.

and so far i've remembered i'm doubling the recipe and have enough oil for the amount of onion. isn't it funny how we learn things. remember learning them. i mean i didn't learn to chop an onion from my father, martha stewart actually taught me. but my father was the first to hand me the onion. and then the knife. maybe when we compare and contrast childhood and adulthood and what we remember and what we forget, maybe it's just the world 'properly' we get the most hung up on. maybe it's a simple as that. maybe.

there's a point in the hot oil in which raw onion goes from ingredient to divine. it happens so suddenly it's like a surprise each time i cook. oh. oooohhhhh. and then you add the garlic.

as i wait for the confirmation from the doctor for what i already know i measure out the curry, the garam masala, the cayenne. the voice in my head telling me to listen for the phone, to measure out double the spices, to just keep cooking even as the tears fall. you still have to feed the kids, your voice says. you still have to feed you. keep cooking.

my father and i were estranged for many years. we only just picked our way over that rocky outcropping last summer. and then i had to leave. and move to the ends of the earth. and then he got sick. and now i'm making dinner. and wondering for the millionth time why i had to move so far away. wondering why that doesn't look like enough liquid in the pot. and then i remember, double the recipe. double the water.

the phone rings. it's not the doctor i expect to call. it's another doctor from the 'team.' and i am stirring in the rest of the water as she is confirming what we all knew. i hear words like 'chemo' and 'pallative' and 'hospice' and 'months.' like the spices i have in my arsenal for cooking these are the spices doctors use. have to use.

she is now expressing her sympathies. and it's only then that i realize that all along i've felt like this has been a conversation. that we were equals. trading questions and information. until now. this moment when she's saying she's sorry. because now i know this is not true. we are not equals. because suddenly she's become the responsible adult in the white lab coat and i am an 8 year old kid.

and i'm turning down the pot which has come to a boil. it needs to simmer. and i wonder why i don't just turn off the flame and put it at the back of the stove. at this moment, just take a minute away from pot watching. i know why. it's at a crucial stage. this pot on the stove. and i will regret ruining it by turning away from it.

and it's for the same reasons i can do yoga while the cats chase their toys at my feet and meditate while mario kart music comes tinkling in from somewhere in this little house.

and talk about my father's diagnosis and final time here on earth and make dinner and remember to double the recipe. because no matter what i have to keep going. i still have to feed my kids. my family. i still have to feed me. no matter what you have to eat, right? and if i keep cooking i can keep going. if i've learned anything in the last year of loss that is lasting longer than i thought it ever would it's to just keep going.

we end the call with the knowledge that i will fly there next week and it will be a pleasure to meet her and all the things you say to someone on the phone who has just delivered the worst kind of news and you don't know her and she doesn't know you. and this phone call is just one part of her job that day. and this phone call is your whole life.

and even though you *knew,* having it confirmed is such a surprise. oh. oooohhhhh. just like the onions.

later when the dal is done i set it aside to drive. picking up the husband from work, delivering on a promise to the boybarians (who don't know what i know) of a special drink for the hot day. and on the way reggae comes on the radio.

i think about my father who hates reggae with a passion. even though he's an old hippie. god he could go off forever on his disdain of reggae. it used to make me laugh. i start to cry. and then i stop. because the people out here drive like assholes and tears would be an unwise idea. just because i'm a grieving daughter i can't forget i am a responsible mother. and just like that i feel the beginnings of the pull that starts to happen to people my age. women's magazines write articles about people like me. my god. i've become a statistic. i start to tear up again.

the husband suggests i don't need to finish dinner. it's too much. let him rescue me. let's get something out he says. and i realize i need to finish it. i need to eat food made with love. and maybe a few tears. i need to be comforted and nourished. more than i need a break. more than i need something quick and convenient. more than i can explain.

and when i talk to my father later we agree that there aren't words to fill the space or to capture what we are feeling. and that there don't need to be. and the thing that gets me while i wait for it to sink further in and while i wait for it to get worse the thing that really really gets to me is that he's hungry. but he can't eat. certainly not the food at the VA. which is just as bad as we can all imagine. but even the things he thinks sound good he knows he wouldn't be able to stomach more than a few bites.

what is hitting me the most is that i can't cook for my father. i am simply too far away. even if he can't eat it it doesn't matter. the irony is incredible.

then he asks me what i made for dinner. and i understand and he understands this is not a normal topic of conversation for us, but we understand why. so i tell him indian food. he asks me to describe it. so i do. and i tell him the dal would be good for him and that the pickle i made would probably be way too spicy. he says he would have given it a try.

and then he tells me about some cuban pulled pork he had a few weeks ago. before this. before we knew. when he still had an appetite. he thinks he would like that right now. he mentions it would be wasteful as he couldn't eat more than a bite. and there's no storage for food in his shared room at the VA.

i say it sounds like it would be worth it, though. and the 'though' floats on the air like a net. capturing all the emotion and all the space we agreed had no words.