On taco night, Pokey was furious that I put whole beans in the ground turkey instead of making separate refried beans. He wanted me to go make refried beans. Our rule is that the kid can eat what’s served or go make a sandwich. Pokey was furious. It was clearly because he was so hungry, though.
I pointed out that instead of making a taco, he might just eat the meat and bean mix, which is generally a thing he might like. (It’s very similar to a dish my mom makes called Jellybeans, which they all like, but I didn’t say that.)
Pokey said, “Don’t say Jellybeans. I know. I want tacos because it’s TACO night.”
I paused and let the silence drag out. I wanted it to be his choice whether or not he ate, but I also thought that if he didn’t eat, he’d be so fragile that the rest of the evening would be a disaster.
Pokey said, “I know. You’re worried that if I don’t eat, I’ll get hangry and make bad choices and get in trouble.”
He’s a very self-aware kid. I was genuinely impressed by his understanding of the dynamics here.
(He didn’t eat, and was hungry and fragile, but kept it half under control, and we all survived and eventually it was bedtime.)
This photo came home from Pokey’s old teacher:
That expression says, “I loathe you but I know I’m also smiling for my parents and I do like them.”
I’m in Milwaukee now.
I am not good at recording things I find profound and emotionally intense, because I come back and feel detached and it all seems too silly. But I’m in the moment, and I’d like to note it.
My uncle Rick is managing this dying process in a manner so weird and unlike any other death I’ve ever heard of.
Elements of a good death:
– Time, but not too much time.
– Mental clarity
– absence of pain
– Basic extrovertedness
– Willingness to be present to the sadness of losing the future, but also aware of the need to compartmentalize and stay in the present, so that you’re not drowning in sadness.
– Expression of vulnerability and love, and having your loved ones show up and say it back to you.
– Having lived long enough that the life doesn’t seem cut short.
– Comfort with how your life unfolded and how you’ve spent it.
Uncle Rick has all of these. Number 4 – extroversion – isn’t probably necessary, but Rick has it. The doctors asked him what his goals were for his last few weeks, and he said energy and mental clarity. So he’s on steroids and Ritalin, and frankly doing better than he was during my last visit. (The doctors implied that the 3-4 week horizon might be extended, as well.)
(Player piano in O’Hare, on the way up.)
Here’s how Uncle Rick’s last month is going: 5-10 people come visit each day. There’s profound love between each of them and Rick. The conversation bounces around between things which are interesting, memories which are entertaining, and mortality and loss. Everyone cries some, but not so much that the visit is unbearable. My brothers both flew in to attend for parts of Friday and Saturday. (Everyone brings fancy cheeses and baguettes, eclairs and muffins, exotic kinds of nuts and oranges. Cauliflower-flavored pretzels and French chocolates. I grazed all weekend long.)
Rick is dictating his memoir as a letter to his grandchildren, and my cousin is typing it up. So he frequently is holding court – telling long winding stories from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s about political activism, family, meeting people who later went on to be obscurely famous, having adventures – and we all sit around and let the lovely scene wash over us and ask occasional questions.
(Mental Health Complex at Froedert Hospital, Milwaukee. Is Mental Health Complex? Yes! Anyway: What great mid-century cupcake architecture, right?)
Later in the evening on Saturday, when everyone had left, Uncle Rick and my cousins and I were sitting together and they pulled me into the nuclear family space in a way that made me overflow with love and sadness.
I keep thinking of this quote, “Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are to see anything.”
I never used to understand duality, and why people felt it was a deep special topic, but now it resonates with me. It’s because the complexity of some things is irreducible, and it forms a knot of interdependence of opposite forces, and you’d be betraying its essence if you tried to pick out just one key part to hold on to. The black backing of the mirror enables the beauty and contrast and colors. If I didn’t have this damn perpetual death anxiety, I wouldn’t always be scared of it all slipping away.
(Free scarves for the taking at a bus stop. Or we’re busy freeing house elves here.)
The quote about the dark backing of the mirror is by Saul Bellows, who I don’t really like, from the book Humboldt’s Gift, which I didn’t really like. I read it twenty years ago and all I remember is Renata, the love interest whose Brazilian beauty and exoticness were far more salient than any aspect of her interior life, and why was she with this shmuck of a narrator anyway? Screw him. I do not remember this quote from that book, but saw it quotated in an entirely different book more recently.
(What’s in that tree?)
(Oh, a duck. Ducks like trees.)
Ace: Isn’t it weird that Grandma Collies’ sewing room is in a bathroom?
[There’s a little dressing room with a partial door sectioned off inside the bathroom, which is my mother’s sewing room.]
Me: It was always normal to me, growing up, because I never knew anything different.
Ace: But what if there’s a sewing competition, and you couldn’t get in because someone was using the bathroom? And they were like ‘On your marks, get set, GO!!’?
Me: I don’t know!
Ace: I guess you played soccer, so you could kick a ball against the door and knock it open.
Still there is make-up:
…the snail which is also a hamburger. On the way home from the restaurant, Ace sobbed and sobbed that Snailee would meet a disastrous end – either thrown out or eaten. I didn’t help, because I was exasperated. It’s a hamburger.
A week later, and we’ve now still got Snailee in the fridge, uneaten and undiscarded. Every day or two, Ace checks to make sure her pet snail is still intact, and so our plan of attrition, trusting her to forget all about it, seems to be failing miserably.
Anthill and anti-hill. There should be some joke there.
Jammies single-parented all weekend. We are out of balance as parents. In the fall, I was over-committed at work, and he was substitute teaching on Tuesdays and Thursdays – of course he would do more parenting than me. (And even at our most balanced, he does more than me.) But he’s doing too much of the hardest parts, and it’s out of whack.
Rascal woke up this morning (apparently, I wasn’t there) with a fever of 102. It responded slightly to Tylenol but returned up to 103, and Jammies ended up hauling all four of them to a walk-in clinic. Rascal has the ‘flu, and now has Tamiflu.
It must have been a very long day – I’m not even getting into Hawaii’s science fair project at this point.
Next week, posting will be on Monday, by the way. We’ll be at the cabins in the woods.