Crinkled Oranges

Friday, February 23, 2018

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Richard's 76th Birthday

Richard would have been 76 today.   A year ago I would never have guessed he would be gone this year. 

I was so grateful that I could be with him when he passed away.  I had not been with Mom or Dad, and I felt that was one last thing I could do for Richard.  I had only been able to spend a few hours with him once he was put on hospice, as it was Thanksgiving, family was in, and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.  So, I counted it to be a great blessing that Richard lingered long enough that I could spend his last day with him.

It was so touching as Legacy staff and hospice workers came in and out of the room that day.  The lady that drove the Legacy bus on excursions came into the room.  She told me she just had to come in to see him.  She was shocked that she had been gone for only a few days and then come back to hear that he didn't have long to live.  She said he was always so friendly and such a gentleman.  She was in tears.

The lady over activities came in and told me that at first Richard was hesitant to take part. But then one day, when they were having an oldies music day, he got up with a big grin on his face and started dancing and flirting with the ladies.  If you know Richard, then you know he was a great dancer and very charming. That made me happy to hear that.

Everyone was so kind.   I was glad that the hospice nurse came in shortly before he passed away and shaved his face, combed his hair, changed his shirt, and freshened him up.  He was unconscious during all of this, but it was fitting that he look so nice.  She talked a lot about how she had been so impacted by being a hospice nurse -- that there is always a special spirit about it.  She felt that people could hear and understand and that they usually wanted to resolve and finish up before passing on.

The last time I saw Richard conscious was at a lunch Charlene had at her house with Lynn, Charlene and Greg, and Gary and me.  It was a good day, and I gave him a hug as I left.  His last words to me were, "It feels good to be hugged."  That was paramount on my mind as I sat with him that day, and even though he was unresponsive, I hope my hugs felt good to him.

And I held his hand.  We have always been a hand holding family. 

Though his eyes had been closed for days, when he passed away, his eyes opened.  That was how I knew he was gone.  I wish I could have seen what he was then seeing.  Though I didn't feel anyone present, I am pretty sure that Gary and Mom and Dad must have been there to greet him.

I sat with him for a moment and then went and notified the staff.  Again, they were all so kind.  They hugged me and comforted me.  One of the ladies (I don't know if it was Violet -- the one that had a crush on him) mouthed to me, "I'm so sorry."  When a different set of hospice nurses came in after he passed away, they were tearful.  One said, I don't know you, but I'm so glad you were able to be here with him. When the mortuary came, they were so respectful of him and me.   I truly came to appreciate those who deal with people at the end of life.  While it must be very hard, it must also be very rewarding to share that bond with so many people.

Well, writing this has opened the floodgates.  Remembering all the feelings, on top of being at Martha's funeral today, have made me extra emotional.   I just told Ellie and Carly who are here watching the Olympics with us, not to mind my tears.

I'll finish by sharing Richard's essay called, "My Treasure."  He writes about Dad, "I hold the hand of the man lying so very still in the antiseptic white of a hospital bed . . . "   

I wish I had a picture of him holding Dad's hand.

Richard Anderson

I am not a man to whom possessions mean much. I don't want to sound smug or disingenuous about it or mean to suggest I don't feel some excitement when I buy a new car or don't preen a bit and feel a trifle vain and spiffy when I first wear a new shirt or pants or shoes. I do observe that a lot of people make fools of themselves in their excessive pursuit of goods and their conspicuous display of them, and I'm glad I have neither the money nor disposition to be one of them. But I'm no longer doctrinaire about it, Marxist or Thoreauesque in opposition to it. To each his own: we all make fools of ourselves in one way or another.

And there are a few things I own that I prize. I have a number of books I wouldn't part with. I have an old wooden highchair friends of my parents gave them when I was born, an antique by now, I suppose, that would probably garner a fairly tidy sum in the right market, but it won't, not as long as I'm alive. And I have some prints of French impressionists hanging on my wall that I never tire of.

And there is one thing I own that I would possibly die or even kill to keep possession of, something whose value vastly transcends its intrinsic utility and beauty, penetrating areas for me of deep personal and symbolic meaning; something without which I would feel a cavernous void, and the one thing I would like to see passed on to generations of my heirs. It is not a watch or a teacup. When passed on, It won't be tucked carefully in tissue paper or in a small cushioned box. It cannot be literally handed down; it will require a van.

I sit up to it every day, usually several times. There I enjoy the first sips of my morning coffee. In the afternoon, after work, I sit at it to correct student papers, prepare the handouts and study guides and quizzes for when I meet my students the next morning. And it's there, later in the evening, at night, that I sit erect if I choose to write, or lean back and lounge with my feet on it if I've decided to lose myself in the world of fiction.

I run my hand over its surface. I think of the hands of the man that crafted it with such skill and

I hold the hand of the man lying so very still in the antiseptic white of a hospital bed, tubes in his arm and nose, still breathing but other overt signs of life quite absent, and plead, Dad, can you squeeze my hand? Dad, squeeze my hand Nothing.

I look into the fine mosaic of patterns and grains in the mahogany as I brush my fingers over its flat surface before me (it could use a dusting) and think of the beauty of finished wood, and my mind performs one of its quirky slights-of-mind: the train of memory traverses in instantaneous montage the whole terrain of what I know of my father and his history and comes to a standstill at his interest with woodworking.

Dad inherited from his brother-in-law a shop full of electric tools for the crafting of wood furniture: saws for coarse and more intricate cuttings, drills, sanders--anything a woodcrafter would need. From scratch--never a prepared blueprint--with intuition, a keen artisan's eye, and a disposition for perfection with whatever he did with his hands, he learned to make fine wood furniture of all kinds. My childhood home was filled with tables, chairs, coffee tables, end tables, dressers, and

cabinets--all wrought from that cluttered, saw-dust-carpeted room in the basement he used as his wood shop (cluttered looking only to an observer; Dad knew where every hinge or length of nail could be found). From our living areas upstairs, we would often hear from below, late into the evenings, buzzings and grindings and whinings, in everchanging degrees of loudness and pitch, as he worked and played, worshiped and cursed, with his tools and the boards he'd toted home from lumberyards. After his children left home, each of us, in turn, would hear whisperings of some shop project of his that might please us for a birthday or Christmas. Each of us has now in our own homes cherished pieces of woodwork: dressers, china closets, hutches, desks.

I think of the eyes that so precisely guided those hands that created and built for his son--with electric saw and sander, glue and nails, stain and varnish, and pride and skill and love--the desk that occupies center stage and center affection wherever I live.

The doctor pries open his eyes and asks me, standing at the side of his bed, to speak to him, to check for responsiveness. Dad, Dad, It's me, Richard. Look over here. Dad, do you know where you are? Nothing. No response whatever. The illusion is shattered. Talking with my mother--his wife of fifty-six years--or with brothers and sisters, or aunts and uncles and cousins who occasionally drop by-- talking, perhaps even laughing, in the long vigil hours, at some story one of us tells, probably one we've heard several times already, but needing to talk, to laugh--at such times, one of us could look at him, the vital signs registering within acceptable range in digital figures on the monitor of the machine hooked to him, and think--well, he's asleep, he needs to sleep. But those pried-open eyes reveal something else, something much more profound, much more telling: this is not mere sleep: he is far distant from us and his surroundings. Far, far away.

I polish the desk often. I love to see its soft gleam. As with every aspect of it--the steel rails that guide smooth movement of the drawers, the perfect symmetry and utility of the different sized compartments of the hutch atop the writing surface, the bevelling of edges and the rounded horizontal slats of the roll-down top--Dad also took extra care with the finish. After twenty years, it still looks as it did when it was new, a rich mahogany brown and deep soft lustre.

With intuitive good taste, Dad gilded his own life with a deep, rich finish, its rough edges sanded away and coated with a soft smooth varnish. From the hard, near indigence of growing up on the windy prairies of Wyoming, motherless at fourteen, on his own at sixteen, son of a decent but distant, morally and religiously unbending father, and from a work career with the railroad and in a steel mill-- from such a background one might expect a rather rough piece. Not so. Dad is the essence of gentleness and civility. This tribute from a son, but not a child son, seeing his dad through the eyes of a small boy, but rather from a man away from home, out of the nest, for several decades, experienced perhaps more than he wants to be in the possibilities for good and evil in the human heart. Dad is as guileless, as pure in heart, as gentle and graceful in movement and thought, as any man I have ever known.  He has never known it, would never admit to it--part of his refined finish--but Dad is as unique as the furniture he made that graces the homes of his children.

The doctor at the hospital is frank with us. Arteriosclerosis in the tiny vessels of the brain setting off another small stroke. Not the massive, paralytic type, but each one impairs his mind and movement just that much further. And if he pulls out of this one, he will have more. And one time he won't come out. He is in the last stages of his life.

Nothing we didn't know, but coming so directly from the doctor's mouth, the cold reality is made more blunt and real than we want or perhaps need it to be. And there are other problems: congestive heart failure, colitis, hepatitis, anemia requiring monthly blood infusions. The doctor's right, of course, at least in his prognosis, if not in his tact. After each of his several other strokes, Dad has regained consciousness and been able to go back home, but always with a marked diminution of capabilities.
And this one is more severe, the coma deeper and longer--there has been no responsiveness for two days and nights. After the doctor leaves, we are teary and numb. After a while, Mother says, I keep thinking, let him come back just one more time. I have to leave the room.

The next morning when we enter his room, Dad is speaking, slowly, haltingly, with the nurse, and he recognizes us and speaks our names. I lather his face and shave him. I rub lotion on his face, feed him his soft diet, and touch his brow. He's come back to us, at least one more time.

I need to get home. Perhaps I should stay longer, give my mother further support, but I know I'll be back soon, and right now I need to get back, back to Salt Lake, back to my apartment, back to the familiar setting and comfortable routine of my own life.

As soon as I do, I call my daughter and ask if she and her baby daughter, my first grandchild, would come over for a while. We visit, I hold the baby, feed her, talk silly to her, laugh as she makes funny faces and strange noises. I thank them for coming.

After they leave, I feel better, more oriented, more myself. I sit at my desk and run my hand tenderly, lovingly, over its surface.

Richard sitting at his desk through the years.

Monday, February 5, 2018

When you think

of the influence that one good person can make on other's lives, it makes you reflect on how you want to be better.

My beautiful, talented, and giving friend, Martha Glissmeyer, passed away on Sunday morning.  While I knew she was battling a return of cancer, I had no idea she was so sick.  She was just 58.

Martha was Natalie's voice teacher from the time Natalie was 14.  Natalie blossomed under her instruction, encouragement, and in the extra time and effort she would give Natalie when she auditioned for plays.  And Natalie was one of hundreds that she did the same for over the years.

As I've read the comments on Facebook from the hundreds who have posted about Martha's influence, they all mention the impact she had on their lives, what a beautiful and giving soul she was, and the light and hope she radiated.

As a neighborhood we are devastated.  She and her husband, Eric, sang beautiful duets and starred in and directed many plays and performances.   Martha was in the the Tabernacle Choir for a year until it became too much for her.  I was able to serve with Martha in several church organizations, and I always felt so blessed to be a part of her life.   Her influence is felt far and wide in the neighborhood and in the music and theater community.  Martha's life makes me want to be better.

Eric asked for anyone who had pictures of Martha to share them.  I spent time today going through my photos through the years.  The one that I'm so glad I have is this one of Martha with her daughter Caroline on Halloween.  This was in 2004, and Caroline is 19 now.  Caroline is a twin to Paul who is autistic.  I just don't know if he will be able to understand why he mom is gone.  It breaks my heart.

Here's Natalie on the left singing with Martha at a ward talent show.

It is hard to imagine a world without Martha, but heaven definitely gained an angel, and one that could sing the solo in the heavenly choir.

Here is a clip of Martha singing when she was at BYU.  She is the soloist.

Martha singing "How Can I Keep From Singing"

Friday, January 26, 2018

Ashton is 15!

When Ashton was little, he was very particular about how I rubbed his back.  It was either, "scratch up" and "rub down," or vice versa (as he demonstrates in the photos)  He was very serious about that, so I always tried to do it right!

One of my favorite pictures of him is this one.  He would go into the pantry (with a chair or without) and eat to his heart's content.  He definitely didn't like it when one of us opened the door and interrupted him.  This was probably the situation where I've seen Ashton frown or scowl.

Now he's a handsome and wonderful young man of 15 
(who still likes his food),

but never scowls, 

and who we love very much!

Happy Birthday, Ashton!