Sunday, March 27, 2011


If you really think about it, we rarely know when something is going to be a "last." When we do know, the knowledge no doubt makes the experience more difficult.

I spent yesterday at a year-end show-choir show -- two of them, actually -- at my children's alma mater, Johnston High School. Daughter Caroline was in show choir for six years; it formed much of her high-school identity and gave me many of my best friends, mostly because during each year's competition season, I saw those people more than I saw my family.

Caroline was asked by her former choir director to be an emcee for the day's events -- a nice honor, and a good reason for me to be there.

It ended up being an interesting vantage point from which to watch the drama unfold, and it also took me back to the position I was in two years ago, when Caroline was getting ready to graduate the program.

As a friend and I were discussing last night, activities tied to music carry a special weight and meaning for many of us; I was certainly proud of my son's athletic achievements, but there was something about Caroline's participation in music that pulled my heart out of my chest. So during her year-end show in March 2009, as she prepared to leave high-school vocal music behind, I was one sad mom.

It was the total immersion that caused those feelings that day. No matter how hard we try to avoid this, when our kids are involved in something that holds meaning for us, we tend to become a part of it, at least to some degree. Because I have a tendency not to sleep much and display a lot of passion for things that I care about, I spent four years helping to head up a booster organization that helped support the school's vocal music program, and it gradually became a larger and larger part of my life.

So as Caroline was onstage for the last time, I mourned the end of watching my daughter perform -- but I also was sad about the certainty that my life would be changing.

I saw that in many of the parents last night. The ones who had been through a vocal-music graduation before didn't seem deeply affected; they knew that life does go on, and a special chapter does indeed become a pleasant memory. But the first-timers looked like I did two years ago; bereft; with tears forming rivers down their cheeks.

It sounds silly, I'm sure, to those who haven't been there, but believe me, the feelings are real; even as we age, we crave acceptance from a peer group. That group of parents was where I found my acceptance, and where I also was allowed to use some skills that came naturally to me. I'll never forget Caroline's sophomore year, when the varsity show choir was suddenly tapped to participate in a national competition out of state; on Saturday, we had no arrangements, but by Thursday, more than a hundred kids, directors and chaperones were packed onto buses, heading for the hotel. We had made it happen. (And our kids won the national title, by the way. But I digress.)

If I could say one thing to the sad parents, it would be this: Some things are ending, but better things, in many ways, are beginning. Not only will you have the joy of watching what your kids come up with in the next phases of their lives, you'll also have the chance to reacquaint with yourself. It took a while, but when the graduation cobwebs cleared, I was able to recall that although being Scott and Caroline's mom is still my favorite and most important identity, it's not all that I am.

Of course I miss much about those times, but there's an equal amount that I don't miss: the politics. The meetings. The never-ending work. It's fun to attend competitions as a spectator, not worrying about take-down or clean-up. And the friends I made then? I watched the shows with them all day yesterday, then enjoyed dinner and drinks with them afterward. That's the best part: They're now my friends because they want to be, not simply because we're thrown together.

The events are over, but the memories -- and the music -- will linger. Your kids, and you, will forge new identities. And if you're anything like me, you'll eventually be fine with allowing your vocal music parent binder to rest comfortably in the far reaches of your car's trunk.

Friday, March 25, 2011

My, how things change -- but I still love you, Friday nights.

My, how things change.

As a younger person, I'd look forward to Friday all week -- it was the best night to go out because you knew you could sleep in the next morning. Ah, a Friday night at a party or a bar!  Leave the week's stresses behind. Have a beer. Make out with a cute guy from one of your journalism classes. (Kids, if you're reading this, sorry for grossing you out a little.) But I digress. 

Today is Friday. It's after 8 p.m. I'm just home from work. And really, even if I were to unearth a better offer, I can't wait to put on my sweats, eat some Mexican food, and do nothing. Then comes the best part -- sleeping in on Saturday morning.

I've never been, and never will I be, a morning person. Even if I get to bed at a reasonable hour, which rarely happens, I don't sleep well because I know I have to get up early. Doesn't make sense? You must be a morning person.

Ah, sweet Friday night. I can stay up as late as I want, knowing nothing likely will wake me early. I rarely sleep till noon, but you can bet I'm lounging well past my weekday wake-up time. As long as I'm in the shower by 12, it's a productive day.

We live in a world of go more, do more, be more. But on Friday nights, I can disconnect and allow myself to be a slug. I don't have many vices; I don't smoke, rarely drink, don't spend oodles of money, and I'm even cutting down on my beloved caffeine. So I'll give myself the unabashed, unadulterated joy of knowing the alarm will not go off in the morning, and my feet won't hit the floor until I'm good and ready for them to.

When I was young, I assumed that older people enjoyed staying home as some kind of sad default. You grew up, you lost your looks, you ran out of options -- so you stayed put on the weekends. Well, luckily, I can tell you that's not true; I'm certainly not Angelina Jolie, but I'm also not afraid to show my face in public. If I wanted to go out, I could probably cajole Kevin to go with me.

But the thing is, I'm as giddy about dressing down to stay home as I ever was about dressing up to go out. The excitement I feel over not having a darned thing to do tonight is every bit as palpable as the beat in the Madonna music I used to dance around to while getting ready to go to the Copper Dollar.

If your Friday night is being spent in a bar, at a party, or making out with a cute boy from your journalism class, more power to you. I'll raise a glass of caffeine-free Mountain Few to you as I prop my feet up and watch Pawn Stars.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thinking About Dean Martin

Several years ago, my dad and his wife bought a dog from a pet store. They took the dog to a veterinarian for his shots, and someone there asked what the dog's name was. Dad and Maxine hadn't yet discussed names, but my dad found himself saying, "His name is Dino."

Later, when I asked him how he had come up with that name, he responded, "Well, I guess I was just thinking about Dean Martin."

That always struck me as funny, mainly because I couldn't imagine a situation in which I'd find myself thinking of Dean Martin. But my dad was about 44 years older than I am, and we didn't share many cultural reference points.

Today, though, Dad is gone, and I find myself thinking of ... Dean Martin. When Dad became ill about a year and a half ago, he and Maxine moved from their townhome in Johnston to independent living in a senior facility in Clive. Shortly before the move, Maxine's daughters held a garage sale to minimize the number of items that would have to be moved to the new place.

We all had an opportunity, the night before the sale, to browse the tables and choose anything we wanted to take home. Dad had accumulated a lot of stuff over the years, and he was a bargain kind of guy -- there were tables and tables of videos, tapes, DVDs, small appliances, towels and sheets, curtains, and bric-a-brac of all types. I didn't see much I wanted or needed ... until I spotted Dean Martin.

Dean is made of plastic and some rubbery-type substance, and he stands about 13 inches high. When you press a red button in his base, Dean sings "That's Amore." His arm and mouth move. He has a five-o'-clock shadow. Someone had given him to Dad as a gift, but there he sat in the garage, alone, on a table. I scooped him up, put $10 in the cash box because it felt like the right thing to do, and went home.

The next day, I brought Dean to my office and placed him on my conference table, where he still sits. I was looking at him as I talked to my sister on the phone at lunchtime today about such things as Dad's will and his remaining belongings. She was asking if I could think if anything I wanted, and I said I couldn't -- maybe his jewelry box, if Maxine didn't have any use for it.

Dad didn't attach personal sentiment to material things. After my mom died, he donated her belongings; apparently if she wasn't there, he didn't want her things to be there, either, as reminders. I understand that. I have a few things of sentimental value I pilfered over the years -- some photographs, a tape measure with the name of one of his employers on it, and a toy tractor on which he stored his toupee in the '70s -- but I can't think of anything else I want or need. The memory of Dad is alive and well in my head, and the many picture frames I keep throughout my house.

And, of course, in Dean Martin. It's funny; I never saw Dad once push the button and make Dean sing. But long ago, I would watch him as he listened to recordings of Dean, or of Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra, and he would have a far-away look in his eyes. I know he and my mom went to dances at various ballrooms around town, but she was gone by the time I was old enough to be conscious of such things. But after Mom died, as I grew from toddler to little girl, I became pretty sure there were other women and other parties.

I would imagine them on Saturday nights as I sat on his bed and watched him get ready to go out. He never actually told me he was going on dates, but I determined at a young age that the suits from Tursi's Park Avenue Shoe & Clothing, the gold chains and the Old Spice were not for his best buddy, John Burroughs. He'd say he was going out with John, but once in a while, a woman would call, and he'd act embarrassed.

So all those years ago, as he looped his Italian horn around his neck and fastened the garters on his gold-toe socks, I sat on the bed watching him and fantasized about the glamorous "dances," whatever those were. He would be whistling, and I remember asking him once, "Is that your favorite song?" He responded, using his nickname for me that I really didn't care for: "Punk, I like 'em all."

It's an ongoing theme of my life that I really never knew much about my dad. I grew up with him, and he was a constant presence; it just wasn't in his nature to share his personal thoughts or feelings. I'm made up of nothing but those things, so Dad and I sometimes were a prickly pair.

And now I'm left with Dean Martin, a talisman on my table, prompting my memories. Months ago, his battery wore out and he was silent. I've often thought that perhaps I should replace it, and maybe someday soon, I will. But for now -- fittingly, perhaps -- I find some comfort in the fact that Dean, like his former owner, doesn't seem to have a whole lot to say.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Friday, Friday" -- what's wrong with her parents?

My 13-year-old stepson and I spent last night laughing at the viral video by Rebecca Black that's been making the rounds the past few days -- it's called "Friday," and I'm not even linking to it because it's so bad.  (You can easily find it on YouTube and several other sites.) The song is short on substance and long on AutoTune -- not surprising, really, as the singer is an eighth-grader, and the video is a vanity project that, according to news reports, set her mom back about $2,000.

A little digging on my part revealed a few more equally horrendous videos produced by this same vanity company, all featuring girls who look perhaps a little better than average, singing really bad songs on such topics as passing notes in the hallway and buying the jeans Ashley Tisdale wears.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not bashing these kids. My friends and I used to sing similar songs with similar premises; my friend Tricia and I were particularly good, in junior high, at writing lyrics to parody popular songs of the time, and let me tell you, they were hilarious. (!) But here's the difference -- there was no YouTube then; we didn't even have video cameras. It's possible that a cassette audio recording exists in some box in my garage, but I can assure you no one will be hearing it.

All this brings me to my key question: What is wrong with Rebecca Black's parents?

My kids, 22 and 19 now, and they grew up participating in two activities that tend to attract stage parents -- hockey and music. Scott was a solid athlete and Caroline was a solid singer and dancer, but at no point was I tempted to pull out the camera and try to make either one of them a star. Of course I was proud of them, and photos of them and their equally adorable and talented friends adorned my Facebook wall.

But while I enjoyed watching them participate in the activities they loved, I also was pretty good at facing facts -- there were a lot of talented kids out there, and I knew that no one else likely would be quite as dazzled by my progeny as I was.

Rebecca Black's mom has to be pretty naive to realize that the parents who are sitting next to her in the bleachers cheering Rebecca as she sings "The Star-Spangled Banner" at school athletic events are the very same parents who talk behind her back about how untalented Rebecca is. (This I know. My daughter, probably because she is a pretty nice person, was chosen homecoming queen of her high school. After the ceremony, I walked into a restroom at the school to hear two women I knew fairly well -- ones who had been cheering for my child moments before -- sniping that Caroline didn't deserve the title and had "campaigned" for it. Meow.)

Rebecca's mom also is naive not to realize that many, many people now know who her daughter is -- including really bad people who should not know who anyone's child is, or how to locate that child. It's creepy enough that the rapper in the video, who looks a tad on the lecherous side, has at least 20 years on Rebecca.

And what's the attention -- most of it negative, no doubt -- doing to this child? Check out this link. In an interview, she talks about crying while reading Internet comments suggesting she cut herself. And she actually seems like a pretty realistic kid, who says she feels she has "talent on some level," but is not the best singer and not the worst.

None of us is a perfect parent, and chances are Rebecca's mom just became caught up in the excitement generated by having a pretty daughter who can carry a tune. She obviously loves and supports her child, and that's more than all too many kids can count on. But it's time for her to step back and try to rein things in a bit.

It's too late to undo the sad fact that Rebecca Black is now a household name, but I hope moms of other 13-year-old aspiring singers will take note and put down the video camera. If our kids have the chops to gain worldwide fame and attention, let's sit back and watch them do it -- on their own -- after they turn 18.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just a tree, but not just a tree

During the two years I was helping to care for my dad during his illness, I allowed a lot of other things to fall by the wayside. Now that Dad is gone, Kevin and I need to deal with a few household matters -- new roof, new furnace/air conditioner, and, apparently, tree removal.

The giant oak tree in our back yard was something that attracted us to our house when we bought it six years ago. It's one of the largest trees I've seen; if Kevin and I were to try to encircle its trunk with our arms at the same time, our hands probably wouldn't meet. People who know about such things estimate it's more than 150 years old.

When you marry later in life, you don't have much of a history together. Ours goes back only about a decade; we started dating in 2001, when I had been divorced four years and Kevin was reeling from a recent separation. In retrospect, we shouldn't have lasted. I was his rebound person; he was a nice guy in a bad situation. Sure, he was cute, but I also felt sorry for him and wanted to help -- not a recipe for a long-term relationship, but somehow, we, and our kids, made it work.

So our lack of history -- and our wish that we had more of it together -- has started me thinking about the history of our home, and of this giant tree. The house was built in 1987, so there's not much history there, but the land it sits on once belonged to one of Des Moines' founding families. It once was part of a farm that belonged to E.T. Meredith, the founder of Successful Farming and Better Homes and Gardens magazines, among others. The tree was young when the Meredith family farmed the land; it's seen 30 Presidents.

The tree is dead; raccoons live in its hollow trunk. One large threatens our house and another threatens our neighbors'. A company that trims many of the trees in our neighborhood says it will remove the tree for us -- for a mere $5,500.

Why it would cost so much, I have no idea. I just keep wondering if there's a way to save it. It's not really our history, but it's a part of the life we've made together, however late a start we've gotten on it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How do I ease myself out of the death zone?

So you wake up one day and realize, to your surprise, that despite the death of your loved one, the world has kept turning quite nicely, time hasn't stopped, and it's time to catch up.

I was all set to show up back at work today or tomorrow when a virus-y thing knocked me out flat. So I'm in bed with the laptop, too awake to sleep but too achy and sore to get up, mustering every kit of energy I have to drink some juice or grab a Kleenex. God's way of saying I need a couple more days of R&R?  Perhaps.

I imagine this feeling is pretty typical of individuals who have lost a close family member, but I'm basically numb and lazy. I see things that need to be done, and even if I were feeling up to par physically, I know I wouldn't do them. Do laundry? No way. Watch reruns of "Pawn Stars"?  As long as someone else can handle changing the channel on the remote for me, I'm there.

So many thoughts are running through my head. Where is my dad now, and what's he doing? Is he with his mom? My former father-in-law told me last week that when we get to Heaven, we don't recognize the people who were once in our families as being our family members; we just love everybody. I really hope that's not true. I want my dad to know his mother. And his brother. And my mom.

How can he just not be anymore? A week ago, I was cutting his nails. He was eating ice cream. The next day, I watched him die. Like bazillions of people before me, I just don't get it.

Friends are telling me to be patient with my emotions, to pamper myself. I guess I am, in that I'm running a fever and can't really get out of bed. But I don't feel like pampering myself; I feel like getting back to normal, whatever that is. Working. Cooking. Cleaning. Exiting the death zone.

But for now, I can't, so I'm just lying here, gobsmacked ... blowing my nose, sucking on cough drops, and wondering what in the world is supposed to happen next.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ice cream and a smile

My dad died five days ago -- it is strange indeed to type the words "My dad died." And now that the dust is beginning to settle, I'm realizing the degree to which the presence of three little children helped all of us through the past week.

My dad's three youngest great-grandchildren -- Noah, 12, Greta, 10, and Jonah, 9 -- could make him smile like no one else. Greta, especially, was a favorite, much like my daughter, Caroline, had been back in her younger days.  And throughout my dad's most recent ordeal, they were the steadiest of presences, visiting him at the hospital, in skilled care, and finally in his hospice facility to give him a little something to hang on to.

Children view death in a way that should be the model for all of us. One night about a week ago, I was walking with Jonah to the dining room in Kavanagh House so he could grab a drink and a cookie. Dad was having a pretty good day -- sitting up in a chair, eating, talking. Nothing was indicating that he'd be gone within a few days. And Jonah asked, seemingly out of nowhere: "Is Pops going to die?"

I thought for just a second before I responded: "Yes, I think he is."

Jonah nodded. "I thought so," he said. And that was it.

Thanks to the dedication and wisdom of their mom and dad, Amy and Kevin, the three kids watched Pops die in a way that helped them understand the way the life cycle is supposed to work. They would sit by his bed and he would tease them and smile at them, grabbing one or two of them into a long hug every once in a while.

As he grew weaker and could no longer speak, he still managed to smile at them and to whisper "Thank you" or "I love you." And the night before Dad died, Greta watched him with tears in her eyes, but still, she held fast to his hand.

Late on Thursday, Greta, unprompted, wrote a story about Dad, and today, she read it to him -- at his funeral. My son, Scott, had read the first Scripture reading, and Caroline, bless her, somehow managed to sing a beautiful "Ave, Maria" for her grandfather. I was bursting with pride at the way they had stepped up to the plate, but Greta's 10-year-old poise and grace were admirable as well. With her soft voice cracking ever so slightly, she read:

"I loved my Pops. I saw him eat three scoops of ice cream at 10 o'clock. And he smiled at me when he was very sick and about to die."

Really, that summed things up. He ate ice cream on Wednesday night. At 3 p.m. Thursday, he took his last breath. But in between -- while he was, indeed, about to die -- he said goodbye, in the only way he was able, to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren around his bedside. And they had made him smile.

I have a lot left to process about the last few days. I'd never seen someone die, and the event was larger than I have the ability to assign words to. My parents are dead; the most direct part of my history is gone, and I'm living inside my own head and trying to redetermine my place in the world.

But as I do that, I'm comforted by Greta's 10-year-old take on this odyssey: ice cream and a smile. If I'm going to choose something to hang on to, I'll pick that, hands-down.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One foot in, one foot out

Years four through 18 of my life were spent at Catholic schools, and when you attend Catholic schools, you learn about Heaven.  I've been exposed to more information about Heaven the past few weeks, though, than I ever learned sitting behind a desk in a plaid jumper.

Dad has one foot in and one foot out these days.  He's physically here with us, but his time is spent seeing people we can't see and talking with people who certainly are not talking to us.  He calls out to and reaches for his mother.  He talks to his brother.  He smiles at the ceiling as though he sees something behind it.  And tonight, for the first time ever, I heard my father sing.  It was a childhood rhyme, and he smiled and looked upward as he sang it.

Something is happening.  And as strange as this sounds, whatever is happening appears to be good -- because my dad seems to be seeing his next stop, and it's absolutely bringing him comfort.

When my grandmother passed away years ago, she spent her last few days talking aloud to her deceased parents.  I considered that somewhat of a fluke as a.) Grandma was very spiritual and dramatic and b.) I had never before been with someone who was dying.  But if my dad's behavior is any indication, she was on to something.   

In my experience, older Catholics don't talk much about their faith in personal terms.  My dad went to Mass every weekend, read his prayer book every night, and said the Rosary, but if I had asked him what his faith meant to him, he likely would have shushed or ignored me.

So the subject was never really one that I broached with him, especially because when it comes to Catholicism, I've always been the questioner of the family -- the one who can't reconcile many of the Church's teachings with the "love one another" form of Christianity to which I subscribe.  So while dad faithfully made out the tuition checks, we never once discussed what he believed, or what he wanted me to believe.

It's clear in that Hospice room, though, that while our acceptance levels might be a little different when it comes to the faith in which we were raised, we're playing for the same team. One night, Dad told me that his nurse-call button was "the button for God."  And every day or night for the last few weeks, he has verbalized at least a little something to the loved ones who seem to be beckoning him to the next stop on his journey.  

Watching a parent die is wrenching in all kinds of ways.  But I have to tell you: I think my dad is showing me that when it's his moment to go, his mother -- whose death left a hole in his heart when he was 16 -- is going to be the one who carries him away in her arms.

How ironic that after all these years without a word about the faith that obviously anchored him, he's showing me that there just might be something up there worth believing in.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I'm not driving this bus.

I'm impatient, and I like to know what's going to happen next.  Surprise parties aren't my thing; I don't really even like to open presents. Those close to me might say I have a few control issues. But this journey we're on with Dad continually reminds me that I am not driving this bus.

My family dealt with a string of tragedies when I was little, and it was up to others to watch loved ones die. With the notable exception of my beloved grandmother, this task hasn't befallen me until now -- and I count my blessings every day that I've been spared so much of the pain that others close to me have experienced.

But that leaves me a proverbial deer in the headlights when it comes to knowing how to make this stage in Dad's life easier, because most days, I have no idea what to expect.

Unlike some other hospice patients, Dad doesn't have a clearly defined or delineated path. Many people who arrive at Kavanagh House pass away within days or weeks of arrival; some linger, and 12 percent to 13 percent are transferred home or to other facilities because their conditions improve. We have no idea what category Dad will end up in; all we know is he's not going to get better.

His diagnoses are renal failure and congestive heart failure. He also makes little sense much of the time. Occasionally, he is very lucid; he responds well to certain people, especially his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and can be very animated and funny. But much of the time, it's as if he's somewhere else.

If you dissociate yourself emotionally from the process of watching someone's life wind to a close -- and I don't know how you do that -- the signs and signals they tell you about at hospice are interesting and make sense.  The body knows how to take care of itself; it conserves its resources for the tasks it absolutely needs to perform. The person's appetite wanes because digestion is too much work. He craves sleep because interaction is too taxing.

But those symptoms vary wildly from day to day. Last Monday, we didn't expect Dad to last through the night. The next morning, he was lucid and hungry. Earlier today, Dad was animated and cordial with visitors; tonight, his breathing is labored and he is convinced that something is wrong with someone in the family and we're not telling him.

The last thing I want is for him to die. But I wish this whole thing were a little more linear, because I wonder sometimes if my bewilderment keeps me from offering the right responses, the right degree of comfort. I'm continually looking to others for a game plan, and naturally, there isn't one. When he's better, our hopes are up; when he takes a turn for the worse, we believe, inexplicably, that he'll get better.

As a spiritual person, I believe in "God's time," and I'm trying hard to understand what I am supposed to be learning from this process of relinquishing control. In the meantime, I'm blindfolded on the roller coaster, hanging on tightly.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The golden tree

There's a tree in the hallway of Kavanagh House, and it's made from tiny gold plaques that are engraved with the names of people who have donated money to the facility. There are hundreds of plaques, and the tree reaches from the middle of the hallway almost to the ceiling.

My little nephews and niece were visiting Dad tonight, and the youngest, Jonah, 9, was fascinated with what he called "the golden tree." He and I were looking at the names, and soon his brother, Noah, 12, and sister, Greta, 10, joined us. They began reading the names, dates and messages out loud.

Most names were, I believe, were ones of older people, judging from the way names seem to wax and wane in terms of popularity. There were Idas and Junes and Maes and Dorises, Wilburs and Warrens and Elmers and Alberts. Many bore such inscriptions as "Love you, Grandma." The kids giggled at one that said, "You were a rock star!"

But as we read, I started to see a few names that made me awfully uneasy. Meghan. Bailey. Jaden. Claire. Names that could, I suppose, be those of older people, but probably aren't. One said something about a granddaughter. I swallowed hard.

Dealing with the certainty that a parent is dying is difficult enough, but I absolutely cannot fathom sitting in Hospice with a child. With apologies to the Lion King, dad really is following the circle of life -- now I have that song in my head, and I really can't stand it -- in that he is dying because he is old. As I have been telling my kids, this is the way things are supposed to work.

My heroes are parents who have lost children, but young people who have lost a spouse or partner are pretty high on the list, too. There's a woman across the hall from Dad who can't be older than 40. People come to see her daily, and as far as I can tell, she cannot respond at all.

After the rest of the family left and I had tucked Dad in and left the room, I told his night nurse, Vicki, how ashamed I felt to be so sad -- that the names on the golden tree and the woman across the hall made me feel really wrong about my sadness. But Vicki said, "Grief has nothing to do with age. You're grieving for the part of your life that's over, and that you will never get back."

The floodgates opened. I am a grown woman with two children in college, and there I was, feeling as emotionally raw as a little child. Vicki kept talking, and she suggested that perhaps I also am grieving for my mom, who died when I was very small. I didn't cry then, as I didn't understand. But now, more than four decades later, maybe the emptiness and finality were hitting me in duplicate. I stood in the lobby trying to hide the tears, and I wanted my mommy.

Vicki gave me a booklet to read and commanded me to go home and get some sleep, and she seems to mean business, so that's what I'm going to do. The booklet is called "Living at the End of Life." Not exactly light reading, but probably exactly what I need right now.