98 YEARS OF ELIZABETH

We celebrated my maternal grandmother’s 98th birthday the weekend before last. She has been in an assisted living home for… I’m not certain how many years now. Toward the end of that week, she suffered a minor heart attack and was also diagnosed with pneumonia. Not good news.

I was asked by my aunt to go to the hospital one day to sit with her while my aunt ran some errands. While there I decided the medical profession was a joke and that there’s nothing more disturbing than watching a 98-year-old attempt to consume water in the form of a gel. Unless it’s that same 98-year-old trying to consume soup in the form of a gel.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see the sense in denying a 98-year-old anything she wants. She’s earned it. Especially since she still had the good sense to push it away and say, “Yuck.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Within a few more days she was asking for her clothes so she could go home.

As requested, Grandmother returned to her room at the assisted living home earlier this week and was placed in the care of hospice. She would rally for short periods of time, then be unresponsive. On Thursday afternoon, she passed away under the loving watch of her three children.

These are a few of my favorite Grandmother moments remembered over the past week.

The neighborhood where she lived for many years after my Grandfather’s death definitely took a turn for the worse. Regardless, she insisted on wearing her fur coat and sparkly jewelry to go grocery shopping, despite our warnings that she was going to be conked on the head and stripped of that mink.

One of my earliest memories was of being at Grandmother and Grandaddy’s house – I must have been maybe three or four years old. Instead of a snack of popcorn or potato chips, I recall wandering about the house, a thick red parfait glass filled with little cold cocktail shrimp in my hands. It seemed perfectly normal at the time. So, thanks, Grandmother, for introducing me to shrimp cocktail as early as possible.

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I remember holidays at the house where my mom, aunt and uncle were raised. The dining room was adjacent to the large kitchen and it seemed Grandmother would sit for possibly 10 seconds before someone asked for something, or she wanted to check on something and up she’d pop. I doubt that she ever ate a warm meal. In fact, during the dawn of the home video camera, my uncle set up a tripod and camera at the far end of the room so we could play the video back and show Grandmother how often she was popping up and down.

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Speaking of holidays, I also remember all the women in that kitchen, peeling potatoes, mixing the stuffing, stopping then unstopping the kitchen sink… Drinking wine or Cold Duck. At halftime, everyone would head to the front yard where a family football game was played. What we lacked in style we made up for in enthusiasm.

What else? Jewelry. Desserts. The time she became a gun owner and we were all afraid to approach the house and absolutely certain the mailman was going to meet his maker. The dark, dark hair she insisted on maintaining until the very end. The outrageous things she’d say. “He’s as dumb and blank as any old billy goat you ever tried to talk to.” I also remember the unfortunate thing she said at my wedding shower that resulted in all my friends standing in unison and making their way to the bar where they stifled laughter and thrilled at the ribbing they were going to give me once we were unsupervised. Then there was the late-in-life introduction to chocolate liqueur.

Complaining. Lord, could she complain! I was quite young when I learned that if we went to a restaurant with Grandmother, a change of tables (at least once) was inevitable.

“There’s cold air blowing down my neck,” Grandmother would say as she eyed the ceiling.

“Would you like to move?” We would ask.

“No, no,” she’d delicately shiver and adjust her chair.

“We can move. It’s okay.” Everyone at the table was suddenly in dire need of flagging down the waiter before the situation escalated.

“No. It’s fine here.” She would insist.

Even though we knew better, we would wait the prerequisite 5 minutes.

Grandmother would suddenly cringe and look toward the ceiling. “I think we are right under the speaker. I can’t hear anything over that terrible music.”

Frantically, we would spin in our chairs as though the restaurant was on fire and we needed to spot an exit.

“We should move,” someone would insist again, rising half way out of their chair.

“No, no. Maybe if they could just turn down the music. And the air.”

Eventually, a move would take place. Within minutes though, it was clear we were now near a loud group, were too close to the kitchen, in a busy pathway, or the table was sticky and/or wet. I felt pity for the nervously trembling waiter who was so intimidated he could no longer manage to pour a glass of water for her without it overflowing. Nor could he deliver a basket of warm bread to the table. All of these flaws would be sighed over and commented upon with a sad shake of her head. Not directly said to the waiter, mind you, but to her table mates, in the presence of the waiter, as though he didn’t exist or was stone deaf.

Good times. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until now.

She was beautiful. She was caring. She liked things that sparkled. She preferred Cold Duck to Moët Chandon. She delighted in saying outrageous things and pretending she had no idea why we were all reacting the way we were. She liked to stir things up. She suffered years of sleepless nights as she worried about every single one of her children and grandchildren (not to mention their spouses), whether they needed worrying about or not.

She was the child of dirt farmers, married a good, hard-working man, then found herself circling the dance floor of the Country Club and behind the wheel of a new Cadillac every year. Often yellow.

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She was loved. She was feared. She was a handful.

She was The Grandmother.

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WHY WE HATE JULY

I know people are going to get tired of this, but it is that time of year again when Ann goes dark. I don’t mean that I’m getting too much sun. I mean I’m getting introspective and “judgy.”

The second anniversary of my father’s death is the 25th of July, and my friend Leah passed away at a terribly young age from breast cancer on the 26th. It would be great if and when those dates slide right by me and I realize afterward that I missed them completely, but for now, it’s still too new and I still catch myself making a mental note to tell one or the other of them something funny before I recall I can’t.

On July 23rd of 2010, Eric, Leah’s husband, was posting this on Caring Bridge – “Leah is holding on. Her strength is still keeping her going. She is much the same as she was this morning. She has zero pain. She is sleeping well. We still expect her to pass at any moment, but it could be another day or two I guess.

“Teagan,” (side note from me: Leah’s 5-year-old daughter) “stopped by today. I was concerned that this could go horribly wrong. It didn’t. It went well. Teagan gave her a few hugs and kisses. She seemed to be okay with the fact that Leah is not really here anymore, and will not be here at all soon.

Guess what else? You won’t guess it, so I’ll tell you. The room that Leah is in was also Tom Landry’s room. Tom Landry was the first coach of the Cowboys, and stayed the coach for 29 seasons, winning two of the Cowboys 5 super bowls and inventor of the 4-3 defense. Tom Landry is idolized in this part of the country, and a stretch of Interstate 30 between Dallas and Fort Worth is called Tom Landry Highway. Also of note: he was interred at Sparkman-Hillcrest, which is where we will have Leah’s services. So, Tom led the way, and is probably waiting to guide Leah. I told her this. Perhaps that is why she is holding out. She would rather it be a Redskin-affiliated angel.”

It’s amazing that Eric was able to find any opportunity to make light. They are lucky they have pages and pages of notes on Caring Bridge – from 2008 until 2010 – of Leah’s (and Eric’s) experiences and hopes. (Although still having Leah would be far superior.) Those who choose to can go back through the full two years of posts and hear her voice in every line and wisecrack.

Frustratingly opposite of that was my father, who departed so quickly there wasn’t a chance to prepare. What we did wind up with is a mystery that still fascinates and frustrates me. My father always jotted things down or doodled. Apparently, after his stroke, as they were wheeling him into the ER, he was unable to talk but was signaling my stepmother with his hand – moving his thumb like he was holding a pen and clicking it.

My stepmother handed him a pen and notepad. What followed was 11 pages of testimony to his rapid deterioration. I have stared at these pages a hundred times and still can’t decide if he knew what was happening and was frustrated by his inability to communicate it, or if he was – I don’t know – just trying to ask for his eye glasses or medicine out of the tote bag that he mentions. From what I see on these pages, it looks as though he is writing the word “brain” a lot. Several notes repeat “VOF tote bag.” That’s a bag with the Voices of Freedom logo on it. I think he asks for a pencil. Perhaps the pen wasn’t writing well upside down?

At one point he seems to give up writing and starts drawing. I can see a head and an arrow pointing to the back of it. Maybe that’s where he felt the stroke had taken place? There was also some supposition that he was trying to write DNR.

It doesn’t matter how many times I review them; they aren’t going to tell me a story, or explain what he was thinking or feeling. What they amount to is frustration. I’m looking for clues where there are none. What could he possibly have conveyed at that point that needs additional study?

I’m just glad he had a chance to try to communicate. I don’t even carry a functioning pen in my purse, much less paper. If I’d been with him, he’d have been scribbling with a tube of lipstick on a deposit slip – or an old receipt. (Note to self: start carrying pens and note pads.)

Who knows – maybe someday we will find someone who can break apart the layers of writing and they’ll find something that really surprises us. Like the number of a bank account in Switzerland…

Hmmmm. Maybe that’s what is in the VOF tote bag.

In conclusion: Everybody keep it together out there. We’re almost through the month.

REST ASSURED

I was thinking about death recently -because that’s one of the weird things I do – and I had a strange vision of my funeral. My husband had selected the music for the service, resulting in a medley involving Rush and the Foo Fighters.

That’s when I came up with a genius idea: Rest Assured.

In the “As Seen on TV” ad for Rest Assured, we’d freeze frame as the Geddy Lee vocal goes full throttle into “Fly by Night,” then a trusted celebrity pitchman (maybe someone like Dan Aykroyd in Driving Miss Daisy) would step into frame and say, “Don’t let this happen to you.”

DAN: Do your loved ones know what you want when you’re gone? Do they know what music you’d like at your funeral? What flowers? What type of casket? Can they compose an obituary?

(Dan looks directly into camera doubtfully.)

DAN: Do they even KNOW your birthday? Really? (He shakes his head.) Do they know if you want to be buried, cremated, shot off in a firework, or donated? Do they know what you want to wear? No. They don’t. Trust me, I’m an actor. Your family knows none of this. That’s why we’re offering you, Rest Assured. Rest Assured is the all-in-one kit that assures you a funeral that won’t make you die of shame.

(Dan makes his way over to a small table that holds a decorative box.)

DAN: The Rest Assured kit includes a questionnaire that asks the pertinent questions your family needs answered before you croak. And, best of all, it’s in the form of a game, so you can make your wishes clear while enjoying a little light-hearted competition.

If you purchase now, you’ll also receive this companion mini-kit, Friends to the End. The mini-kit contains a key ring, trash bags and notebook. Give this kit to a trusted friend who will act on your behalf in case you’re taken from this world unprepared. ‘Unprepared’ meaning you didn’t have advanced notice and need your friend, upon notification of your death, to race to your home, use the house key you’ll have attached to the key ring, and follow the instructions, also noted here.

(Dan taps the notebook and smiles.)

DAN: …Important instructions like, open drawer to bedside table and remove anything battery operated, inflatable, or ingestible. Go to spare bedroom closet and remove box of videos, magazines and DVDS. Go to kitchen drawer and remove emergency ‘cigarettes’ and matches. Place empty wine/vodka bottles in neighbor’s recycle bin.

That’s right. Friends to the End enables your friend to protect your reputation after your death. Think about it. Your family members rummaging through your possessions. Think hard. Do you want that? Haven’t they been traumatized enough by your death? Do they need to know about your late night snack stash? Your collection of attractive yet impractical women’s shoes? No.

Do they need to read your journal? ABSOLUTELY not.

That’s why you need Rest Assured, and the companion mini-kit, Friends to the End.

(CUT to Dan looking sympathetic.)

DAN: What would YOU pay for peace of mind?

FADE TO BLACK.

_____________________________

Great idea, right?

I KNOW.

A few sample questions included in the Rest Assured kit include:

Where do you hide the GOOD jewelry?

What is the combination to your lock box? Do you have money hidden in Swiss Banks?

What’s your favorite flower? (List names and colors.)

Who do you want to give the eulogy at your funeral? (What if that so-called friend of yours – the one with no brain-to-mouth filter decides to tell the Vegas story?)

Do you really want to spend eternity in a suit? Wouldn’t jeans be more comfortable?

What kind of casket do you want? Wood? Fiberglass? Eco-friendly? Decorative?

Where do you want to be buried – or scattered? (Do you think it’s wise to trust your kids to keep you safe in an urn on the mantel?)

Bag pipe or non-bag pipe interment?

Music: Rainbow Connection or Highway to Hell?

Amazing Grace?

Gloria?

THESE are questions that, once you’re gone, some funeral director will fire at your bereaved relatives. And they’ll HAVE to answer. Even if they don’t know. THINK ABOUT THAT. If it scares you silly, place your order now. Operators are standing by.

If you don’t get things sorted out now, you could end up the victim of an overly enthusiastic funeral director with an overstock of these:

It could happen.

PUTTING THE FUN IN FUNERAL


Due to the passing of a friend of mine last summer, and my father (unexpectedly – the day BEFORE my friend) I have been thinking about funerals. Not obsessively or anything, just in passing. (Oops, no pun intended.)

I have attended fewer than a dozen funerals in my life, and frankly, they have been pretty much what you would expect. Pretty solemn. Rarely, someone who knew the departed would speak and elicit a little “acceptable” audience laughter.

My father’s service in late July changed my funeral paradigm. I wanted to speak, but my brain was not functioning. I have a whole new respect for family members who speak at funerals. There was not enough Valium in the world to get me through that experience.

Thankfully, friends of my father performed the eulogy. There were three speakers, all of whom were close to him and able to share fond memories. However, one individual in particular went above and beyond. Briggs grew up with dad in Maysville, Oklahoma and attended OU with him. He appreciated dad as a friend, an artist and a non-linear thinker. He was a gold mine. The man knew almost every embarrassing/hilarious story involving my father and was perfectly willing to share each of them with us. In church!

It was fantastic. Briggs was sometimes emotional while speaking, but fought his way through and delivered one story after another – zinger after zinger. I sat in the front row with my family, alternately wiping away tears and laughing so hard I thought I would fall off the pew. I cast a few nervous glances at the poor, unsuspecting minister, afraid he would walk out, and half hoping he would because Briggs was obviously editing out some good parts.

My friend’s funeral that afternoon was similar. Several speakers, all of whom knew her well and were able to tell stories that brought an amazing mixture of laughter and tears – an incredible gift – just when you thought you would never laugh freely again. It was such a relief to have a similar “vibe” to both services. That day we all agreed – family and friends – if we didn’t keep laughing, we would never stop crying.

If you don’t have a friend who can do this type of eulogy at your service, get some new friends. PAY someone. Hire them. Do whatever it takes. It is a tragedy to sit through a service that feels like one-size-fits-all.

How lucky my father was. And Leah. We should all be so blessed in our friends.

So, who’s doing your eulogy?

Here’s a link to some of Bill Rogers’ art work. (Gallery.)

Side note: I have Briggs’ typed and hand edited eulogy from the service and will treasure it. The stories he couldn’t tell, the paragraphs he crossed out, the words he highlighted as inappropriate for the venue. (Thank goodness.) Even a few sentences here and there directly addressed to my father. It’s the most hilariously inappropriate and yet heart-warming combination of emotions I have ever had the pleasure to read.