I found out tonight that another person I know and love dearly has cancer. What the fuck? What is this cancer shit? It’s like some alien blob that just invades a person and pops up wherever the fuck it wants to. Then it becomes, and I mean this in no disrespect, like the trouble with tribbles. It breeds like sex-addicted bunnies and it’s all over the place! Leave us alone, cancer! And it’s so indiscriminate! Wouldn’t it be sweet if it took out only the evil? The greedy, the killers, the racists and the rapists? That’s what cancer should actually be – some sort of cosmic punisher. Like someone would say, shit, I have cancer and you could then ask, what the fuck did you do that was truly evil? And they’d have to admit it and make amends, change their entire way of life, and then, and only then, would cancer go into remission. See, that would make sense about cancer. But the way it is now, cancer is its own evil. Preying on whomever – the most innocent, the average, the amazing, and also, sometimes, the evil. And there’s no remission based on the lives, actions, and intentions of the victims. Cancer is stupid and yet apparently smarter than we are. You folks want to believe in a devil? You got it. Cancer. Now we’ve got to find a real god to banish cancer to the depths of hell and beyond. To never rear its ugly head again. God bless you, PB.
Steve Griak was a neighbor dad and a baseball coach. He and his family lived on the other side of the block down at one end. They had a modest house in a really nice neighborhood – so really not all that modest in the real world. Steve had a son, Mike, who was my age and one of my closest friends for much of my childhood. He also had a daughter, Susan, who I believe was my first kiss in a pile of leaves one fall. And he had another son, who arrived when we were twelve and so grew up entirely under my radar. And he had a lovely wife, Mary Jane. A beauty queen, if I’m not mistaken, and the quintessential mom. Her grilled cheese killed.
Me, Mike and Ben Johnson, a closer neighbor, just two doors down but a year younger, were the three amigos. We were all very different, but the proximity mattered, and we grew more alike, then mostly apart as adults. Mike connected me to Steve and Steve connected me to advertising; my first thought being, he gets to wear jeans to work.
Steve was an ad man, when it was cool to be an ad man, but he wasn’t Don Draper. More Bob Newhart/Robert Redford mix than Mannix. He was our baseball coach and a great one. He was patient and tireless and he rarely if ever, seemed even remotely perturbed. He made so many commercials that I remember seeing on TV as a kid and was reminded of those (and this great guy) with this video put together by Charlie Griak:
So there’s quite the kerfuffle about Pope Francis bagging a bit on the childless couples who act like their dogs and/or cats are even remotely decent substitutes. And I get that that is maybe a bit old school Catholic style. But I’m right there with him! I’m so tired of my childless friends talking about this new restaurant or that great band they saw. Screw that! How about you procreate – as we were all meant to do! That’s the only reason why you’re on this earth – the only real reason! Everything else is window dressing! That pottery you do? Whatever. The music you make? Fun, but ultimately pointless. All those great art shows? You wouldn’t miss them if you never saw them.
And yet the rest of us – the beaten and down-trodden who carry the future of the world on our shoulders and our credit cards – double-down, the women go through the amazing sacrifice of giving birth and the two of us (hopefully) feel the tectonic shift beneath our feet and realize that one now true truth: It’s no longer about me any more, it’s all about you. I live for someone else.
And you with your hip concerts and surprise trips to Costa Rica! You with your spotless houses and planned dinners! You with your facebook posts about all the kidless fun you’re having! You!
Have you ever cupped your hands to catch the puke of a little girl? Realized long after changing a diaper that you had poop beneath your fingernail? Have you ever listened to the banal goings on of a six-year-old orator on a car trip for 2.75 hours? NO, YOU HAVE NOT! And even if you have you could leave the little pains in the ass behind when you head home to your great new awesome HBO series binge-a-thon!
Yeah, I’m jealous. Really jealous. You got it made. I’m screwed. But you got to admit I got it right with the whole evolution thing. Crap out kids – the genetic coupling, halving yourself. Passing on the genes. Only the strong survive. That’s the only real reason we’re here. The rest is window dressing.
But I got to admit that your windows look awesome, god damn it.
Happy Birthday, Dad. You’d be 83. I graduated in 82 – not sure there’s a connection there, but I like numbers so I see something obliquely significant. The universe works on numbers – physics – so maybe that’s where we need to look to look beyond our insignificance.
83 years on this planet has to be a win. I know it is as a dedicated Sunday obituary reader. I see the numbers – the ages – the multitudes in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and now 90s, so I know that lasting into the land of the octogenarian is a win.
A win for you and a win for all of us. To love someone and then have them for so long is exactly what we live for. Early deaths are tears in our lives, our families and our psyches. They serve a purpose – they remind us of the fragility of it all, but they rip at our souls. Old deaths show purpose. They remind us of the reasons we fight to stay alive – not only for us but for the people we love, and more importantly, who love us.
We loved you – love you, but the distinction is profound. I’ve yet to pick up your ashes. I know they’re perfectly safe where they are and I really don’t know what on earth to do with them, despite our plans to do something earthly with them.
I’ll never forget the births of my children. That’s about as profound a moment as you can experience. Everything about me dissipated. It was now entirely about them. All selfish desires went from life to just plain selfish. But then again, it is about me and how I live my life for them. You did that for me. You lived your life to make certain we were provided for. Not that you didn’t live your life for you, you did! But underlying whatever you did was the knowledge that you had us and would provide for us and then make certain we lived our own lives.
Well done, old man! Happy Birthday! Your birth led to mine and your mind made certain I lived a good life. I am working – struggling – to do the same for my kids. It’s a struggle, you know/knew that. But it’s worth it. For living for yourself is one thing, living for others is a multitude of things.
My dad’s obit appeared today in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press and the Sioux City Journal and will also appear in the Lake County Chronicle on Thursday. What does that mean? Our little final story will hit three papers near to where he’s most recently lived and soon one where he really recently lived.
I’ve read the obituaries every Sunday for the last 25 years of my life. Since I was 25, I guess. I don’t know what got me into that habit, but the habit I got. It’s become a ritual for me because I find myself wanting to know who’s dying. And more than that, and here’s how most obituaries so fail, why. I was certain to mention what ailed my father before he died because I think it’s terribly important. An obituary without a cause of death is just a greeting card. With a cause of death, it’s a statement of fact.
We, the living, need to see what’s killing the rest of us – no matter how awful or what we think wrongly is embarrassing. It’s the truth that we need to recognize together. There’s no shame. Suicide or aneurysm or cancer or car accident. The truth of the matter is what matters. It’s what will touch us to be aware of what is killing the rest of us. Lewy Body Dementia isn’t pretty, but I’ve now heard from others that have loved ones that suffer similarly. That’s good. Because they find solace in the diagnosis, reason and love. And shared experience.
When I read those that do tell the whole truth, I feel alive. When I read those that don’t, I’m not sure exactly how to feel. Yes, I revel in a life well lived, but beyond that it’s what behind door number one. You guess. But you could never possibly figure it out.
Death by any means is noble – whether it is an old woman dying in her sleep at 95 surrounded by family or a young person suffering from mental illness who commits suicide. It’s entirely equal and important. Obituaries need to spell it out and allow us to respond as human beings. Even a suicide bomber. We should know that, see who they were and who loved them, and we’ll be that much closer to knowing what causes something so hideous, and maybe be there to affect such a decision in the future.
But that is extreme. What about the rest of us and all the diseases and accidents that take us out of this life? The more we know, the more we can understand and be prepared and aware. Cancer, stroke, old age, [insert that which killed your loved one here] – let the people know. Let them know what took this great person’s life so they, the rest of us, can be aware with the ones we love.
We hear statistics, trends, numbers, chances, but they’re just that. Not human beings, but numbers. Give the body a reason. Give the people a chance to understand and maybe respond. All death is noble, if we take the time to understand why. Life is what we’re living, death is not just a concept, it’s more true than you can ever be yet. Tell it like it is. Let that be your favor to the future.
See ya, Dad! Glad you could finally get the hell out of that memory care crap. As much as those people are saints and angels, it was a living hell for you, sir. You spend the last thirty years of your life on 13 wooded acres with streams and deer and fox and bears and a view of “the largest fresh water lake in the world,” as you were wont to say, then the last three months in a glorified hospital room, dubbed your “apartment”. You were a “resident” but I preferred a “guest” hoping your stay wouldn’t really add up to any sort of actual residency.
And it didn’t. It was as if you looked around you and said, “No, thank you.” You rallied for a few weeks and seemed darn good – if all the mumbling, confusion, hallucinations and falling down constitutes darn good. But it’s all relative, and you quickly crumpled and exited with great class.
You and mom must have had quite a connection. She up north suddenly struck with the thought – the compulsion – that she needed to get down here to see you on Friday. “Mom,” I said, “you’re coming next week.” “No, I need to see Bob.”
We saw you Friday early and you smiled when I whispered to you, “Dude, mom’s coming today and it would be a perfect time to get the hell out of here.” When we left you almost broke my hand squeezing it and you almost hugged Jana and I inside out. I wondered if you didn’t have a plan.
She came, you sat on the deck in the sun together – as you did on various decks, docks and beaches throughout your 57 years together – you had a little dinner and when she ran to the store, you took the opportunity to leave this strange little planet in the care of the nurses, who gussied up the old bod in some nice pajamas, combed your hair and laid you down on the bed like the best of open-casket moments. Brilliant! Mom got to be there and you know just how important that was! God, I love you, Dad. And Mom.
I know you had no time for religion, the afterlife and all the rest. You were a scientist – a surgeon who had to go into work at 2 am and piece together some poor kid whose parent’s station wagon was t-boned by some drunk in a big old Buick. That boy never did anything to deserve a skin-bag full of crushed bone. And you did everything you could. And mostly it worked, but sometimes it didn’t. And the little boy, or girl, or teenager, mom, dad, grandmother – whoever – would die. There was simply no room for some sort of caring god who answers prayers in that world. What god would answer this mom’s prayer over here for the new couch and then allow this mom’s kid to be crushed to death on a dark highway, whether or not she thought to pray.
We talked about the afterlife and you were curious – as any good scientist would be. But you knew you could not know, nor could anyone else without proof, real proof; stories in old books and old men’s promises from pulpits do not constitute any sort of proof whatsoever.
So we left it at that knowing we didn’t know… but now you do! I’ve no idea where you are – let me rephrase that: I’ve no idea where your soul is (if that can be separated from the body; if there is such a thing as a soul) but your corporeal self is lying in a drawer awaiting the great cremation oven. It’s got to be great, and by great I mean, big. Some a bit more religious might see that as a metaphor of you burning in hell for your agnosticism. I see it as the incredibly unselfish choice of someone who really doesn’t believe they should take up 28 square feet of earth for eternity.
We’ll toss the ashes out on Lake Superior and maybe some on South Long Lake. I know you think that sort of thing is silly, at best, but we’ll enjoy it. I’ve got to tell you that the guy at the cremation society said that if you’re tossing ashes outside anywhere you should “mind the wind!” Can you imagine? We make great speeches, open the lid, toss the ashes that are you (not really) and whoosh! It all blows back in our faces! You’d love that just to drive home just how silly all this is. I know you would.
So where are you? Can’t you give us a sign? Move a chair, or a lamp, jeez, how about the cursor? That can’t be all that hard. Are you IN some sort of heaven? Or OUT there in the firmament? Jetting from star to star, universe to universe? Are you everywhere? Flowing with the energy that moves all things? Or will you be reborn a black bear? (Colin came back as a rabbit. I see him everywhere.)
I’m just like you, Dad, I’ve no idea how that all works, and will never take it on faith from any man – ever. You instilled that bullshit alarm in me from an early age and it’s there and it’s calibrated and it has never, ever failed me. For that, I thank you dearly.
I also thank you for that sense of wonder and curiosity that is the flipside. You instilled that in me as well and it’s made my life richer than I could imagine. In fact, we had many a cocktail conversation about the existence of the god concept and what that might look like if it did/does exist. These were wonderful conversations that, of course, didn’t really lead anywhere. Instead it was the journey, as they like to say.
So now you know – or at least you know where death leads us – all you dead people know! Good for you, dead people. But maybe in death you learn what death is, but all of you are still knocking around wherever with no more proof of a god than we have here on earth. Who knows? Well, you do.
I’ll keep that curiosity and sense of wonder at the world, nature, the universe(s) and pass that right on to Olivia and Ben. I’ll hold my hand out in front of me, like you did, and think, “Look at that thing, it’s absolutely brilliant!” And it is! I told that to some people at work just the other day and they also looked at their hand, moving their four fingers and the mind-blowing opposable thumb, and I’m pretty certain that they will also never see it the same again. You taught me that there’s enough right here in our physical world to explore, learn from, and wonder about without conjuring all-knowing and eternal gods and the like. We don’t know how gravity works, but we’re running around telling people what the creator of everything thinks? Good Lord.
We were best buddies at the end. Even after that sick disease wrecked your brain to a place where I only got glimpses of you, we still connected. We could sit in confusion for an hour and then you’d suddenly give me a look that said, “Don’t worry, Luke, I’m still in here.” I loved those moments. I loved all the moments. I even loved the shitty moments that pepper the care of a guy with your disease. I learned a lot in the last year. You taught me right up to the very end.
I love you. I will always love you. Godspeed! (Yes, I had to say it!) And don’t forget to stay in touch! I’ll be listening, my friend.
There but for the grace of God go I. Lewy Body Dementia. Look it up if you’re looking for yet another chink in the armor of this loving God of grace. Or if you’re more modern, explain to me why evolution would evolve such a thing. It’s a cocktail, not to be enjoyed surely, but jammed down the throats of the unsuspecting; a mix of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease with a double-shot of hallucinations tossed in for good measure. Shaken. Stirred. Scared. To death.
“Dad, are you all right?”
Eyes of terror, hands shaking, trembling in the middle of the familiar family room.
“Can I get you anything?”
“Yeah, a casket.”
It’s one of the sickest parts of the sickness, this in and out of reality, with little of the blissful ignorance that can accompany some forms of dementia. Just confusion, then awareness, then terror, then anger, then anxiety, then awareness, then frustration, then and again and again and again.
The hallucinations started out fascinating, even funny. “Do you see that garden party over on the Johnson’s lawn?”
“Do you see the couple standing on the rocks down by the lake?”
“Well, then, what about their dog?”
They got less funny over time. Long, complex hallucinations he recounted later. The three women who put him in a car and took him across the country, stopping at gas stations, not letting him out of the back seat. The same three women who would show up unexpectedly in the house. “I don’t know how they get in here.” Then maybe funny: “But damn they work hard around here. Never seen anything like it.”
He’s moving into memory care now and if anyone’s memory needs some care, it’s his. It’s the sickest thing I’ve ever seen, this Lewy Body business. Reduce a once proud, hyper-intelligent, orthopedic surgeon, to a trembling, mumbling “resident” (read “patient”).
There are moments of transcendence, fewer and farther between these days, but, still, and occasionally.
I love my dad. I hate this fucking disease.
One day I will have a website – idontknowdidyoupayattentioninschool.com – which will sell all sorts of items – from coffee cups to t-shirts to bumper stickers (trinkets and trash) – all of which will say just that: “I don’t know. Did you pay attention in school?”
Because I’m convinced that most of the problems in America are due to not paying attention in school. Think about it, if you look at the kids who really paid attention in school when you went to school, you are now looking at adults with fewer problems than those who did not pay attention in school. It’s like this almost foolproof anti-problem process. The more you pay attention in school, the better your entire life will be.
I know, it sounds too simple, and granted, it’s not entirely foolproof. Other extenuating circumstances come into play certainly and some people who pay attention in school end up with many a problem. And even more sadly, for some kids the problem is the inability to pay attention in school for one reason or another beyond their control in the first place.
But there’s the big group in the middle – the big bubble of people who didn’t pay attention in school – who could have paid attention in school but did not pay attention in school and are now wondering just what went wrong. What happened?
I don’t know. Did you pay attention in school?
I don’t know. Do you wanna buy a stress ball?
(And how it applies to the Winter Olympic Games)
My younger brother Daniel and I were talking on the phone last night and commenting on the Winter Olympic Games. He said, “The U.S. is kind of sucking this year.” And I said, “Yeah, but doesn’t it blow your mind how many of the athletes are such freaking Hotties?” And he said, “Yeah, and they’re all fucking each other all the time! As soon as they finish their events they go back to the Olympic Village and fuck each other over and over!” He’s right, by the way. I read about that years ago. If you don’t believe it, look it up.
Anyway, when he said that – PING! It popped right back into my head: Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina. I remember the exact day of its origin. Many years ago my two brothers, my sister and I were riding in the back of our parents van and passing through Edina. Edina is a very wealthy suburb of Minneapolis, and at the time, around 1976, it was the quintessential wealthy suburb of Minneapolis. So I looked out the window of the van at a group of girls standing in front of the Edina Theater and said, “Man! Why are there so many hot chicks in Edina?”
My other brother, Jonny Pie, looked up from whatever technical manual he was reading (for fun) and said:
“It’s really quite simple. The fathers in Edina are wealthy men and their wealth gives them certain advantages in picking a mate. One of those is in the looks of the women. In other words, they can choose more beautiful wives – whether they are handsome themselves, or a troll. So it follows that, over time, the prevalence of beautiful children will increase. And it follows then that if the families stay in Edina for generations, the genetic probability for good-looking children continues to increase. Therefore, ergo, you are absolutely right: there are ‘so many hot chicks in Edina’. Simple as that.”
Bam! He knocked that fucker right out of the park! His simple logic stunned my young mind. It was suddenly obvious. Rich men = hot wives = more hot chick babies! Simple as that.
“It’s not the same in Minneapolis where we live,” he added, and we all glanced up to see if Mom and Dad had heard that.
So now I see that Jonny Pie’s Theory can easily be applied to the prevalence of Hotties at the Olympic Games; and it’s not because they are all having sex in the Olympic Village like Daniel was quick to point out, as you might be thinking. That story was actually about all of the condoms that are provided by the US Olympic Committee for all that sex which would, hopefully, avoid any unwanted, albeit off-the-charts cute, babies.
It’s because the Olympic athletes in the winter games are all basically Edina kids. Every last one of them. Yeah, yeah, NBC likes to drag out the one story of the middle class kid from Indiana who mowed lawns to afford to become a snowboard sensation, but seriously, how many lower or middle class families can afford to send their kids to luge camp, or snowboarding school, find them a Romanian skating coach, or buy them a four-man bobsled? None. That’s how many. Most of those families couldn’t afford a day pass at one of the Utah ski areas these actual, and decidedly hirsute, snowboard sensations no doubt basically live in.
You don’t learn how to do a Triple Raspberry Flip Flop 1280 with a Double Sow Cow Inverted Twist, or whatever the hell they make up to call that shit, in a few runs. It takes hours, days, months and years, and ain’t no poor kid gonna get that opportunity. No, sir.
So, really, we have Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina, Postulate 1 (As it Applies to the Athletes at the Winter Olympic Games), and it really simply states: There are so many Hotties at the Winter Olympic Games because they are all the offspring of rich parents, therefore, rich kids, ergo genetically predisposed to be Hotties. Rich Parents = Rich Hottie Kids = Kids with the time, money and resources to spend a lifetime learning to do a Triple Raspberry Flip Flop 1280 with a Double Sow Cow Inverted Twist, or whatever.
Simple as that.
Kudos to the Russians for the Olympic intro. God bless ‘em, yes, it was an extravaganza, as it always is. Beautiful and poignant and then, ultimately, please make it stop, super bowl halftime style. But I think they made some recognition of their own not so perfect history, which was good. I’m not sure even we juggernaut Americans would have done so. Some recognition of a not so Pollyanna past which they’ve been prone to as Soviets and now new Russians. Something tells me we would have draped a flag over all of our own ugly past. But there’s still the 50 billion dollar price tag (what happened to that?!), which the Chinese would have parlayed into an Olympic games and then maybe Disney Beijing. Putin’s a megalomaniac, no doubt. And this is his moment. But is it enough? I don’t think so.
But let’s watch the games!
Sadly in the end, Putin will do what Putin wants to do. Shit, Hitler had the Olympic games at his peak and look how that turned out, how history sees it, Vladimir.
But let’s just watch the games!