Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


2 Comments

It’s Been a Year

Bill Myers, Emerald Bay, 2012

Daddy died a year ago tomorrow. I’ve been marking the days this month of where we were a year ago – not crying, not anguished, just aware. I’m remembering how difficult his last month of life was, with diminished mobility and speech, increased confusion, and his confounded stubbornness that he was getting up even though his legs couldn’t hold him, that he was going home even though I couldn’t care for him here.

He ended his life in one of “those places” that he swore up and down he would never be in. When we explained to him that’s where he was, and that if he didn’t like it, he should have seen the places we didn’t take him, he wrinkled his face, saying, “Pffffffffft.” They took good care of him there, though the sight of the mattress around the bed in case he fell out in the night really threw me.

Daddy asked me in a window of lucidness where his grandparents were buried, and what did his will say, and was it finalized. He wanted to know things were in order, and he told me that it had been a good life and that dying wasn’t a bad thing. He went downhill from there.

Holding Daddy’s hand

I’m grateful to Hospice. Whenever I see Hospice nurses in blue scrubs out and about, I want to run up and hug them and say “Thank you.” Sometimes I do, which they may find odd, but especially now I have excess emotion and they made such a difference. They spoke gently but with blunt honesty about what happens to the body when it starts to shut down, about how our perception of it was just that; his body was doing the business of dying. That meant it was hot, that breathing changed, that he probably wouldn’t talk much. But that he wasn’t in pain and would at some level hear us even when he couldn’t respond. I sang “Amazing Grace” and “You Are My Sunshine” to him, and was with him when he died.

Today I spent time with someone in my community who is facing the same situation with a parent who probably doesn’t have a lot of time left. Because of my experience with Daddy, I was able to talk about convening a care coordination meeting with the facility staff, and bringing Hospice in early to help the transition, because Hospice staff bring additional skilled eyes to evaluate and support both patient and family. We also talked about cremation, and what services a funeral home provides, and how obituaries get to the paper. Things to get in order BEFORE there is a death, because so much happens then that it’s hard to keep track of details.

Daddy gave me that present of understanding this end of life stage, and the ability to talk about it calmly and with compassion. I miss him every day, though I don’t miss having the house climate be too hot for me or the TV volume up so loud I can hear it anywhere in the house. He was a kind man who loved his family with all his heart. People here speak so fondly of him that it sometimes brings tears to hear about random acts of kindness done that made a difference. That’s a pretty good legacy.

I’m holding on to the image that was on the prayer chain when he died, that “Bill is driving around the golden streets of heaven in a golfcart with his beloved Peg.” That’s Daddy. I love you, Daddy. And I miss you.

Bill, Anne, and Tom Myers
T-Bar-C Ranch, 2012
Advertisements


Leave a comment

Requiem for my parents

Saturday night I sang the Durufle Requiem in concert with about 80 other people plus orchestra. It’s gorgeous music and is based on chant motifs that move lyrically from voice part to voice part. I sang it once before in Boston with the Trinity Choir, which served me well with this new performance.

I realized on Friday, as I sang along for the eleventy millionth time to a recording, that I could let go of that and just sing it. It’s in my bones now and I barely need the score to know those weird notes to pull out of the air after 8 bars of time signature changes. Being able to just sing it freed me to feel it and realize that I was singing this Requiem for my parents.

Mom’s birthday is this week and Daddy’s was two weeks ago. Mom died in 2014 and Dad passed away last May. We had memorial services for both, of course, but their ashes have been sitting on the dressers at my house waiting to move to their final resting place at Cathedral in the Pines. Dad wanted Mom’s ashes nearby and since it was a comfort to him, that’s where they stayed. He would talk to her sometimes, as would I. Last spring he was finally ready to let her go so we bought the plaques for their “condos” as he and Mom termed their niches in the columbarium, but he passed away before we could actually inter the ashes. And it was too hot and logistically complicated to do it when Daddy died.

We are finally seeing them to their final rest next Friday, and my brother and I have cooked up a service from elements of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist traditions. I mostly just want them to be at rest and not in my closet (I moved them off the dresser when I got my baby kitties, since nothing is safe with them around). But I feel like I’m back in the limbo time between the death and the service. I want to get this done. I want it to be over, for them to be at rest. It’s the last thing I can do for them, other than just live my life well.

So keep them, keep us, in your prayers.

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

And from the Durufle Requiem:

IX. In Paradisum
In Paradisum deducant Angeli,
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.

Chorus Angelorum te suscipit
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.


7 Comments

Obituary for My Dad

My father died peacefully on Friday, 25 May 2018, after a very brief illness following a fall. Here is his obituary, which will appear in the Tyler Morning Telegraph on 8 June 2018:

2016 MYERS, BillA memorial service for William Cleopheus “Bill” Myers will be held at Emerald Bay Community Church on Saturday, June 9, 2018, at 2:00 p.m., with Dr. Darryle Dunks officiating, under the direction of Stewart Family Funeral Home.

Mr. Myers, age 90, died Friday, May 25, 2018, in Tyler. He was born on February 18, 1928, to William Marvin and Susie (Keel) Myers in Williamston, N.C. He went to Duke University on a football scholarship, where he majored in business and joined the Kappa Alpha Order. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aerial photographer and graduated from Duke in 1950. He also studied at New York University Graduate School of Business.

Bill met the love of his life, Margaret “Peg” Flanders, on a college double date and married her on December 15, 1951, in Newark, N.J. They were together 62 years, living in New Jersey, Kentucky, and Dallas before moving to Emerald Bay in 1985. He was a life member of the American Water Works Association and spent over 40 years in the water meter industry before retiring in 1990 as Vice President of Master Meter, Inc.

He was a member of Emerald Bay Community Church and a member and past president of the Emerald Bay Club, where he resided for 33 years. He loved children and read to first graders at Hazel Owens School for over 20 years after retirement. His favorite book to read to them was Pickle Chiffon Pie. He enjoyed playing golf, travel, ice cream, picking up pecans and golf balls (not at the same time), learning new things, and spending time with family.

Bill was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Peg and is survived by daughter, Anne Myers of Emerald Bay; son, Thomas Myers and wife Cecelia of Wheelock, TX; grandsons, William Myers and wife Claudia of McKinney, TX, and Robert Myers and wife Ellen of Houston; granddaughters, Elizabeth Applegate and husband Josh of Fort Collins, CO, and Lauren Barrandey and husband JohnPaul of Arvada, CO; and great-grandchildren, Gianna, Noah, and Eli Applegate, and Liam and Samuel Myers.

In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to make a contribution to Emerald Bay Community Church, 160 LaSalle Rd., Bullard, TX 75757 or to The Hospice of East Texas Foundation, 4111 University Blvd., Tyler, TX 75701.


1 Comment

Have You Written Your Obituary?

There are three things that you can do now to make things easier for your family when you die. You don’t need to be sick to do them – in fact, it’s better to do these while you’re healthy and have time to think and plan. You can do them in any order. But trust me on this: taking the time to do these three things is a gift to your loved ones.

In Memory OfFirst, write your obituary. You’ve read many of them and if you haven’t, just pull up any local paper and read a bunch. Some of them are boring and just have name, birth and death dates, spouse, children. My favorite obituaries, though, tell me who the person was, what their passions were, what made their lives better. My dad read to first graders for over 20 years and you can bet that will be in his obituary. I read a wonderful one years ago about a 102-year old woman known for her pie baking – I knew who she was after reading it. Include basic information but go beyond it to tell people who you are and why you mattered. Pick a good picture for the obituary, too, preferably one that looks like you as a mature person and not the army picture if you are in your 70’s.

Second, plan your funeral or memorial service and give a copy of what you decide to your church office as well as your own files. A funeral service is conducted when the body is present; when it’s not, as in the case with cremation, there is a memorial service. Different religious faiths and denominations have structure or liturgy for their services, but it’s up to the family – to you – to select scriptures or readings to be included, and to decide on music that’s significant.

This doesn’t have to be hard! There are websites with ideas, such as 30 Top Funeral Bible Verses. Hymnals and prayer books also have suggested music and scripture that’s appropriate. Do you want to have a choir sing, or maybe someone sing a solo? Write it down!  Nothing is written in stone and it can be changed as you change and want something else. Also remember that a memorial service is for the living, so if your family decides on something else, that’s okay, too. But at least they will know what you want, and that will help enormously.

TombstoneFinally, plan what happens to your body. Do you want to be cremated or buried? Do you know where the body/ashes will be interred?  Sit down with a funeral home (or several, to decide on one), and make plans. Even better, prepay it to lock in prices (they call this “pre-need arrangements”).  Your family won’t have to do anything when you die except call the funeral home and meet to review what has already been arranged.

I work in a church office and deal with memorial services and grieving families all the time. I’ve seen what a difference it is for them when these three things have been planned in advance. Make thoughtful decisions about what you want, write them down, and make sure your family and your religious home have copies. It might be the best gift you can leave them.


Leave a comment

Death, three years later

P1010382Three years ago yesterday, my mom died from complications of COPD. She had been fading away for the few years prior to that, and since my brother and I had researched the disease, her death was more of, “Oh, it’s now” rather than, “OMG, NOOOOO.” My father, on the other hand, was devastated. He still is.

The last time I saw her was at my niece’s wedding three weeks before Mom died. She had saved all her energy for the weekend and it took everything out of her. Her body was frail, almost bird-tiny, and she had almost no reserves of energy. My sis-in-law arranged for transport wheelchairs for both of our moms for the wedding activities, and that allowed Mom to be present for rehearsal dinner, family visiting, the wedding ceremony, and reception, with the whole family (except bridal couple) gathered at the same table. We were all happy, looked wonderful, shared the joy of the day and the enjoyment of each other’s company. And we all said goodbye when she and Dad left to go home. We had our goodbye, even though we didn’t know it was the final one.

I lived half way across the country and didn’t see her often. We talked every day at 6pm my time, 5pm her time, for seven years, since she was hospitalized for a serious infection following an emergency appendectomy when she was 76. Note that she diagnosed herself with appendicitis reading Google search results. I am her daughter in more ways than one.

Three years after her death, I’m living in her house, cooking in her kitchen, caring for her husband of 62 years. And I listen to Dad tell stories about her every day, which sometimes makes me crazy because I hear the same ones, word for word, many times. Yesterday we went to a memorial service for a friend and it allowed us to heal a little more.

 


Leave a comment

Sudden loss

One of my friends died suddenly yesterday, on the golf course in New Mexico while traveling with a group from our community. Although death is always a reality when you live in a place that has mostly 55+ residents, this one hit extra hard because it was so unexpected, because of where he was at the time, but mostly because he was so beloved by all. He had been a leader in the community and the church, but was also just a fun person who brought a smile to our faces.

We have a lot of memorial services here over the course of a year but most come after a lingering illness or simply from complications of age. This death was different and has made us stop in our tracks. Bob was a member of the choir and last night, instead of rehearsal, we spent time talking out the facts and reactions, and praying together.

It’s too soon to know anything else now. Logistics get complicated when a body needs to be moved across state lines and there are too many unknowns. What we do know is that we lost someone who mattered.


2 Comments

Slow Medicine

The mother of one of my staff is dying of cancer and we find ourselves having small conversations in different combinations of people, talking about that situation but also more generally about death and dying, thinking of ourselves, family and friends. And then I read an extraordinary article in the New York Times: For the Elderly, Being Heard About Life’s End.

It’s about Slow Medicine, a phrase I wasn’t familiar with. But the concept of it is important in our increasingly aging world with newer and better abilities to sustain life, sometimes at all costs. It also reminded me of a conversation I had with my parents months ago about what they wanted for medical care for something huge like cancer.

My mom is 77 and Dad is 80; although they are young at heart, their bodies are aging and things are starting to not work as well. Let’s face it, that’s going to happen to all of us. Joints deteriorate, organs fail, systems get clogged or sick with diseased cells that multiply into a myriad of possibilities including but not limited to cancer. Minds can become foggy with Alzheimer’s. The ability to care for ourselves isn’t always there.

Just because it’s medically possible to intervene and fix things doesn’t mean that it’s always a good idea for someone who is older. I’m not talking about euthanasia or treating people harshly or with indifference. But older bodies are often not as good candidates for successful surgeries as younger, healthier ones even as current medical practice seems to push us to try everything no matter what the cost. And the cost is not just on the body and spirit, it’s also financial. Medication and surgery, physical therapy and treatments cost big bucks.

Slow Medicine is about having choices including the choice not to pursue treatment. If the decision is not to treat cancer, then why have a biopsy to verify that you have it, if doing so puts other things at risk? My parents have made a decision to pursue some things but not others. They are older than I am (well, duh, they are my parents) and the choices they are making for themselves at their ages are not necessarily the ones that I would make for myself now. But later? Yes. I want that right to make those decisions in an informed way, sharing them with my health care proxy and my doctor, looking to the quality and dignity of life that may remain.

There was much discussion when Terri Schiavo was the subject of a tug of war over her care at a point in her life when she wasn’t able to voice her own wishes. The time to think about these issues is now, while we’re healthy and aware and in full command of our faculties. Unfortunately, it usually gets discussed too late. Tara Parker-Pope at the Times also blogged about Last Wishes. Gotta love the Times; there is so much meat, so much to think about.

Even things we would rather went away.