if life hands you a nasal cannula, you just flip it down for the mouth-breather.

It’s 3:35 AM and I owe an immeasurable debt to hospice nurse Corina. There is simply no greater comfort, medical knowledge, and support I could have been given when I called to ask for advice regarding my father’s breathing difficulties and resultant anxiety.

Yes, I should be sleeping; I’m not. My mother, however, is. This is a huge blessing, as is the family I am surrounded by – all sleeping, too. I only have a few hours to go and maybe I’ll get some sleep, too.

it can be one thing, but also another

A friend takes my children for a few hours this afternoon while I go to my parents’ unencumbered by their rascally selves. This is a good thing because my mother is very underslept and there’s nothing for it, really. After some medication my father falls into a deep but brief sleep and I serve my mother some soup I made up; we sit in her kitchen and talk.

It is a good talk. We discuss friends, betrayals, a memorial service. She tells me she’s worried for me because there’s so much of me I get from him. Our flexibility and abilities in living our lives, our “intellectual…” she trails off (what did she mean?). She cites us both as intuitive about “people’s bullshit”. I have always thought this as true about my father to an extreme degree. I have often trusted his intuition. I haven’t thought much about mine. It is interesting hearing her compare us and I wish I’d have really marked down all she said. But I was thinking about helping her through this conversation. How sad she has to see her own children hurt, to worry for us even now.

For all the help and ease the hospice group is supposed to provide, my mother is still on the phone a lot coordinating things. I watch her try to concentrate (mispronouncing “albuterol” worse and worse with each repetition on the phone). I watch my dad breathe. He looks like he’s climbing a mountain! So does she! He is so thin his ribcage protrudes and rounds out his body, his flesh fallen away. His pantlegs are rolled up to expose his calves (I realize something I too do to my pajamas when sleeping) and the skin on his calves is smooth and pale and unflawed.

A few minutes after our lunch he stirs and awakens. He never gets more than a couple hours stretch at a time. He sees me and his eyes open wide, his arms pop up and out for a hug. I immediately hug him as naturally as if this was something we did all the time (we didn’t). “I love you daughter,” he says. I tell him I love him too. I hug him too. I feel some of my self-consciousness evaporate, because I’d been hugging him more, mostly unsure if it was appreciated.

We get a delivery for another machine that will help give him better air. He can’t talk for very long without pausing for breath. The technician is showing us tubes and switches and his voice hushes a bit in deference, probably thinking my mom and I are about to cry, or very sad. But I’m not thinking about the machine or the air or even feeling terrible. What is stuck in my mind, and what lends me to flush with tears, is how very, very much my father looked like an infant, in the way he held up his arms and asked me near.

I am so honored I get to see him this way, I get to see his “baby” self, his true self. He’s dying but he’s also crystallizing in my mind. Never have I been more sure of who he is in my life, and where he dwells. Never have I seen him so clearly; in some way he is not diminished but augmented. I see him even in this form as more beautiful, more pure, more himself. My time with him renders his physical changes as less shocking, and not horrible, but simply amazing. It is hard to watch him suffer, yes. Very hard. But it is also amazing to see a person stripped further, yet still so very much a person.

When he’s awake and feeling better I enjoy his humor, his conversation. He eats a plum, the first and only thing he’s eaten so far today. He eats the dripping fruit with relish but clumsily, beset by an inability to finish the job – yes, like a first plum tasted by an infant. He prefers fresh water and says it tastes “horrible” after an hour. I am so pleased to fill his water glass, to provide him compazine for his nausea. I hope, hope so much, that until the last I can give him something, some assistance.

Life is messy, and funny. Standing in the kitchen doorway the dog quickly turns about on the carpet and shits on the floor before I can intervene. I laugh and clean the mess; disgusting. My dad says, “It’s Thursday – just put it in the trash and it will be taken tomorrow.” His mind is still remarkably clear even with medicine and naps; he recites his physician’s phone number to assist in a pharmacy phone call. “You’re going to miss my memory banks,” he tells my mother, with an almost smug knowledge that yes, we’ve always known his memory so much better than the rest of ours; a gift really.

I leave to pick up my children, and a prescription. I will return to stay the night and give my mother a full night’s rest – or that is the hope anyway, for what our plans these days are worth.

i don’t know, it kind of seems like a party in some ways

Are we dying, or are we really living?

Last night we had a very small gathering which was only in part about my mother’s birthday. I made a cake; or rather, I made the best frosting ever, and fucked up the cake on eighteen levels, and Ralph saved the day with his amazing cake re-animator skills, and it turned out an *awesome* cake. We dressed the kids up nice and packed up the birthday gift and homemade card and headed to meet family.

My father’s brother and sister had arrived in town to stay at my parents’ house hours after the piano has been moved and minutes after an adjustable bed (complete with oscillating air mattress to forestall bedsores), wheelchair, and oxygen tank had been installed. My mother hadn’t been happy at first when it dawned on her my dad wasn’t well enough to go out to dinner (the original plan). So after a talk with me on the phone she decided to pick up dinner. Now I’m in the living room talking to my aunt and uncle, the kids crawling on everyone, Ralph fixing my aunt and I a cocktail, and my mother nervously chopping up a salad. She’s feeling glad for my family’s help yet somehow “responsible” for everyone’s food, good time, and happiness. P.S. her influence is something I struggle with daily – being a hostess, but not taking on The Weight Of The World by doing so, either.

My dad sits quietly. Sometimes his head is in his hands. Sometimes he smiles. He joins in the conversation then sinks away. We ask if he needs more medicine. After he has a coughing fit that lasts a while, Nels approaches his knee gravely and tells him to drink his water.

After dinner the kids are absolutely obsessed with the electric bed that’s not in the living room. I tell them after dinner, wash hands, let us make it up, then you can get in. In tucking in sheets and sorting out pillows I realize I am making up my own father’s deathbed. Sometimes I get these dramatic sentences, they pop in my head. But it doesn’t need to feel bad. Why not a deathbed? I remember us making up my bed for my son’s delivery, at home. This was an occasion too of worries, of expectation, of the unknown. The more time I spend at my parents’ home the more similar and deep the experiences of birth and death seem to me. It’s not even as simple as one event is joyous and the other sad, although I know so many see it that way.

The kids are in the bed, giggling. Nels says he’s “dying”, sticks his tongue out, dramatically falls back in bed. Sophie manifests a convincing consumptive cough. Ralph ministers to them by pouring out “medicine” (Diet Coke!) in a teaspoon. They love this. They cuddle-wrestle. My mother moves the bed into different positions. Nels snaps to this concept and when my mother leaves he immediately finds and operates the bed control. She returns, scolds him. He is banished from the bed for the evening.

This morning my mom arrives on the bike to deliver some leftover baked sweets that came into her life. People bring food to her home and it is appreciated, so very much, although I think people (including myself) may be bringing a few too many sweets – at least in the days when it’s just my mom and dad in the house. But food doesn’t go to waste around here. For instance, I made her a pie last week from fresh-picked berries (actually I made three, gave them to various and sundry) and she was able to take it to church and share it, something I knew gave her satisfaction.

I don’t mean to go on about food. My mother’s mood this morning is almost elated, girlish. She has somehow escaped hostess duties for a little bit of exercise, a drop-in visit bearing gifts. She hugs the children and cuddles the youngest chick before revealing what’s probably really got her happy: “David slept really well tonight,” she tells me (they had both slept poorly the night before). “He only woke up coughing once and I gave him some oxygen. I think that bed really helped.”

Life (death) will get difficult again. But last night our family gathering – interrupted with a welcome and sweet visit from two friends bringing, yes, pies and singing two-part “Happy Birthday” – wasn’t co-opted by maudlin experiences of sickness and dying, even as we were in the presence of such and indeed had gathered because of it.

i have a good story

I’ve been wanting a (small) chest freezer. This is in part because I have discovered using my freezer increases the quality and ease of cooking. For instance, it is only a slight amount more effort to prepare a large batch of food and freeze some than making a normal sized batch. This is also because I watched a movie called The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio and it has stayed with me in so very many ways.

So a while back my family took a night drive to a house to look at one that was offered for free. I had misgivings about the transaction which were soon validated. First, it was on a beautiful, lonely, and desolate stretch of road. And it was the creepiest and saddest house I’ve ever been in (think Blair Witch crossed with Silence of the Lambs and you’re close). Mortified plywood porch and I thought I was going to fall through it. Our flashlight bounces off mildewed religious artifacts and jars of old preserves cloudy and abandoned on the dirty floors. I’m thinking how sad it is someone’s life lived out here and now the house lay in a pile of waste and junk. So out in the garage we find the freezer. The top is rusty but, I’m still hopeful. I make a joke to Ralph about a body being inside and just as Ralph opens it I realize there very well may be meat in there (without power to preserve it) and – bam! sure enough, inches of absolute filth and rotted split-open turkey carcass (I hope) before I tell Ralph to drop the lid! Because he’s still sitting there kind of looking at the contents. A split-second later and I am beset with the worst smell ever. I stagger outside and pull my shirt up over my nose but it isn’t until I get home and shower that the smell finally leaves me. It was funny actually, the second I saw the violent shade of corrupted flesh I thought, “I immediately regret this decision!”

It was a beautiful drive. We also stopped at the 7-11 and got candy first. That’s a rare choice for the Hogabooms. It’s funny, we treat ourselves to lots of nice things. But candy and late-night adventures we need to do more often.

one in the hand

Today while Ralph and I were making up labels on a little home-brewed project of mine (see below) I spied our kitty Harris outside with a bird in his mouth. This is the second one in three days. The bird from Friday was quite dead, and perhaps not even by his hand (or paw, such as it is). This one was still alive. Ralph ran outside and retrieved the cat and went inside the house to look for the phone number of a rehabilitation group. I picked up the bird. The children ran outside and crowded around me. Our neighbor’s daughter called over the fence, asking for updates which my kids gave. I couldn’t hear them because I was rather distressed.

The bird went through agonies in my hand, arching back it’s head and opening it’s beak as if gasping. It’s gasps began to have sound. Then it died in my palm. I laid it down and it changed very profoundly from something fighting to live into something dead. Something left it’s body so obviously as if it was an entirely different thing altogether. I cried. I don’t care if you think that’s silly. You weren’t there.

Sophie cried a little out of shock and then went inside to tell Ralph. She came back outside and the children took turns holding the bird and talking about what happened. They weren’t upset. Ralph dug a hole in the yard and we placed the bird, a few worms, and a flower inside the hole.

Life went on. For us.

Madame Marie's Elixer for Mature Gentlewomen
My mother asked me to make something nice up for a few friends.