Thursday, February 3, 2011

white fang

"does the dog die?" asked noah, the oldest grandkid. couldn't have been older than 6 or 7. mom and i had already watched the movie, but dad hadn't yet seen it. so, while noah kept turning around from his seat on the bean bag to ask his grandpa, "does the dog die?", his grandpa didn't know either, and was just as nervous about white fang dying as his grandson was. finally, after hearing, "does the dog die?" for the 59th time, dad said, "just watch the movie!" in a tone noah wasn't used to, noah, and dad, got quiet.

i've told you guys about my dad. pretty stoic. except when it came to his dogs.

the next morning, noah and mom and i and dad laughed about "does the dog die?" at the dinner table. noah still laughs at that story. he'll be married in a week. he's a captain in the air force. he flies giant planes carrying giant pieces of death machines. he has mixed feelings about what he delivers. he was a good boy; he's a great young man. when his grandma died, the base he was stationed at flew a flag in her honor for a month. a month.

it's a terrible movie. and i love it.

noah, the dog doesn't die. the dog never dies. no one ever dies. as long as you don't forget.

40 comments:

Cindy said...

A month.

That is really one of the best things I've read about the military lately.

As with most things, when it's personal rather than institutional I find ways to relate and to do so positively.

I hope Noah stays safe and sound.

My father in law flew big, cargo planes over the Himalayas in WWII. He loved flying. Flew as a test pilot too. Just loved being in the sky. Passed that gene right down through is only son and grandson.

Grandson works on the propulsion of the Space Shuttle engines.

Families are amazing.

Dogs too.

switters said...

cindy, i saw noah this past christmas. hadn't seen him since his grandma's funeral. where he presented the flag. god. at christmas he told me that he still hears all the advice i gave him. my knees gave out.

Cindy said...

Hugging you.

And Noah.

I'm so glad you were able to see him at Christmas...even with all this snow and ice it is good for you to be closer to your family!

Do you watch Modern Family? They get so much of the family dynamic, and yet make me laugh.

I like that.

switters said...

modern family is genious. my family is much more boring. you should know that i still envy your growing season, and that moonpie is a bed hog. thank god.

rundeep said...

I can't watch any movie where a dog dies without becoming weepy. I also can't watch "The Exorcist" which I saw for the first and last time 30 years ago, and I still have nightmares if I even hear the music. My favorite "family dynamic" tv is "Everybody Hates Chris." That was such a great show. Your nephew sounds fabulous. Noah was my number 1 choice of name if I'd had a boy, BTW.

switters said...

rundeep, watching the sun rise over the ice and snow covered bean field. it's really quite pretty. but i need to get into town. though the lane is a moonscape of drifts.

topazz said...

switters, we buried my mother today; she died last Saturday morning at home. After never really waking up, she took her last breath in my oldest brother's arms. My heart is very full tonight because I've just returned home from what turned out to be a beautiful day-long tribute to her. The small unexpected gestures are sometimes the most meaningful and John, if you're reading this, we used the Patrick Kavanaugh poem on the back of the Mass program - thank you both for being the reason that poem ever came to my attention. As a daughter who spoke with her mother nearly every single day - now comes the hardest part of death: living with the finality.

switters said...

topazz, no. i'm so sorry.

Penal-Colony said...

Topazz,

I'm so very sorry to hear that. Please take good care of yourself. My thoughts and warmest wishes are with you.

John

Michael said...

Topazz~

Please accept my condolences.

topazz said...

thanks all of you, but I don't want to turn this into a personal grief-fest. I come from a large beautiful family (7 brothers and sisters) and this is one time when family really comes through. Switters, just going by what you've written of your own family - you come from the same stock. Don't hesitate to lean on them - even go and LIVE with them during this winter if you need to, until you get through these hard times to a better place. People with families like ours have no reason to "go it alone" - and much as you may feel you're imposing on them, there really will come a time when you can return the favor. It'll happen in ways you don't expect but they'll be so grateful for. I found that out firsthand this week when one of my brothers was struggling with the eulogy. This was a brother who funded an entire Christmas for all four of my kids during a particularly bleak post-divorce period of my life. I was able to write down in words exactly what he wanted to express. Even the great punch lines! He gave a flawless delivery and brought the house (er, Church) down.

switters said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cindy said...

Love you guys.

Thanks for making this little part of the Internet available, switters.

switters said...

topazz, let us hear from you.

Penal-Colony said...

Switters, Rundeep, Topazz & Isonomist,

I posted an elegy for the beloved Paul Celan on my blog, which I've dedicated to you.

topazz said...

my mother was a devout Catholic, and all of her life she's always been especially devoted to the Rosary and the Blessed Mother. She wasn't a crazy religious nut or anything, but during her lifetime she's probably spent what has amounted to whole years (timewise) just saying the rosary. Within the first hour immediately after she died, along with each of my siblings - I was able to spend a few minutes of private time with her before they took her away to the funeral home. I kept looking at her, studying her face, touching her and holding her hands and wondering where "she" was at that moment. Was she in the room with me? Hovering over the bed like I've read about near death experiences? I know that just by me being in her bedroom among all of her things, her books, her clothes, I could've easily made myself believe that I felt her presence, too. But truthfully, all I could feel was that she had left - totally, completely gone. Her beautiful spirit, everything about her that I loved so much, her essence - it evaporated when she took her last breath. I wanted so much to believe, and to feel her in that room with me. My three sisters are all believers, exactly like she was. I just can't feel it like they do, I don't know why I never had "the faith". One of my brothers made me laugh, he whispered "she's having the big surprise!" I thought to myself: what if he's right? If all of those rosaries meant nothing? If she gave a lifetime of devotion to a mythical figure? On the morning of the funeral I wrote her a letter and tucked it down into the side of her casket right before they closed it. I told her how much I loved her, would always treasure the life I had spent with her. And at the end of it I asked her for a sign. A definite, no question about it sign if she was still out there somewhere, something that would make me know her spirit remained and mine would too after I died, that there was more than just this physical life. I even underlined "definite" (It wasn't the first time I asked her to do this. Years ago we were discussing death and I brought it up under much more lighthearted circumstances but she knew I really meant it then, too)

Its been 3 days and I haven't heard anything so far. But I'll keep you all posted...

topazz said...

4 days...nothing. By the way, what I won't accept as a sign: something amorphous or vague, something I have to really "read into" ...it's going to have to be a real JOLTING sign dammit, and my mother knew this better than anyone - every single day she used to say a decade of the rosary just for me to come back to the church. She fully believed in Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, and that after she died she would be with her father and mother and her siblings again. She always asked us to promise that we'd pray for her after she died, because she expected to be in Purgatory for a bit first. She prayed for her brother Bill for ten years after he died, because he had become involved in an affair late in his life and she was sure he was in Purgatory. This was my mother. An otherwise intelligent, insightful and sensitive woman. Not by any means some naive country bumpkin or typical 1950's housewife - but a woman who had a sharp mind and wit up until the very end, was a voracious reader, worked as a financial aid director for Penn State University, was interested in all the things I'm interested in, with one glaring exception.

I hesitated to post here about my ever-growing certainty on the question of life after death. But who can be certain? It doesn't matter how strongly this past week has made me lean in one direction over another. I hesitated because you've been very honest in writing about what a rough time the past two years has been for you. You've laid yourself bare about it and in your writing I've seen small glimmers of a possible conversion (from more of a doubter to more of a believer) I've read how you've found solace in Jesus. If you were serious about this, then I'm happy for you - if you found your own "sign." I will remain open to it happening to me, but my gut feeling is to trust my gut feeling.

rundeep said...

She died warm, in her bed, after a long life, with people she loved around her, and it seems without struggling through any horrid illnesses. I'd consider that a gift from God. To her. Gifts to each of the rest of us may be harder to find, and signs too. But keep writing, I really feel so privileged to hear from all of you on this topic.

topazz said...

Oh my God, was 30 Rock hilarious tonight or what? Replace Tracy Jordan with that flight attendant, please!

switters said...

hey, topazz. thursdays are quite good. "community" has become my favorite; "perfect couples" could be worse; "office" can't be bad no matter what; "parks and rec" is well written; "outsourced" is really bad. i haven't had a beer since monday morning. been thinking a lot about you. i don't have an answer to your thoughts; but what rundeep said makes even me feel better. but i'm still struggling.

and yes, "30 rock" rocks. most of the shows move too fast for me to laugh. and yes, because i'm sober i have insomnia. hope you're well. still looking for signs myself.

topazz said...

thanks, switters. I hope you're okay, too - and thanks for allowing me use of your blog to let out all these feelings I've been feeling about death. When you lose someone so close to your heart and mind - even an "expected" or "eventual" death like a parent - it can't help but bring up a wellspring of emotion and questions. It also makes me realize that for all the grief I'm feeling and you're still feeling so acutely - the ones we know here (like Iso) who've lost a child - how strong do you have to be to bear that additional devastation on top of it all? I have nothing but admiration for her. By the way - the jury is still out (while I think about it some more) but I may have gotten that "sign" - I'm at work right now and will write more later.

Cindy said...

topazz - I don't think your mom comes across as any kind of nut or country bumpkin just because she had a deep and abiding faith and expressed it in a certain way.

I think she comes across as a strong woman, a loving mother and a determined human being who used her gifts to the betterment of her life and those around her. She was helped by the Rosary, even if no physical miracle flowed from it that we can discern.

I've watched my scientist-lawyer husband be transformed by a willingness to believe in a power greater than himself. And go from someone who was drinking himself to death, to someone who lives life with enormous gusto. He does not attribute this to his incredibly big, smart brain. But he does use that brain to challenge himself and study and follow some path that may bring him somewhere besides drunk, hung over, and miserable.

I watch my mother wrestle with faith and her many grandchildren struggling in the world. She vacillates from thinking prayer is the answer to thinking she must get in there and fix things. I see a mother girded for battle to deal with what life brings her.

I love reading your posts about your mom, about your siblings, about your kids. It inspires me to see my own family members with a little more compassion and care. Iso has done that for me too. In ways beyond imagination. So has Tia. I could write an entire book on how Tia and her family, and especially Jane, have changed my life. (Maybe I will just do that.)

Switters here, with his blog of life: in all its fascination and desperation and transformation. I love it here. There is something real.

Maybe that's as close as I'll ever come to understanding eternity and soul space, this invisible and yet absolutely real connection.

switters said...

don't be silly, topes! sorry. what i mean is, i'm quite touched that you chose this little mini-farm to honor your mom. moved, actually, and quite honored. i find myself talking to my mom and dad regularly. not sure that's healthy, but i don't care. wednesday at 5:52 pm was 2 years. march 24 will be 10 years for dad. i'd like to post a letter i wrote to my nephew for his wedding. though it's pretty personal, i trust you people.

for the record, i dragged my busted truck into town for the first time in a week for supplies. and i bought a lot of beer. then i get home and egypt is free. not drinking has been hard, but i could use a drink. can i be moderate? or is it, like mom said, not a sedative but a disease? (she said it very diplomatically.) everybody needs an off switch, right?

Cindy said...

This is a little mini-farm.

Growing all kinds of things. From seed.

And speaking of that, I have carrots - 2 1/2 inches long. Yellow, purple and orange. Broccoli by the bunch. And dark green spinach.

This is what the deer and rabbits have left me.

rundeep said...

Cindy, don't make us kill you. switters, every person is different. Some people can break a bad habit and return to social levels. Others can't. Have to know your own breaking point. And parents aren't always the best judge of that, because they see you too in a different context. They can't help it.

I quit myself 4 weeks ago for a diet. (Also gave up bread, sugars of all kind, diet soda and anything which might be fun to eat). I can live without everything, but I miss wine/beer. I figure a period of abstinence will just help me ration more effectively.

switters said...

cindy, don't make us kill you. again. you and your 12 month growing season.

run? are you pregnant? wine is good for us. 19 beers a night, not so much. booze caused me to miss noah's wedding. mom was being kind, liz lemon. ps, hope you're well.

topazz said...

ah, well funny you should be talking about booze. My father (who, thanks to all of my brothers - didn't spend a single night alone in their house for the first ten nights following her death) was suddenly MIA for the last two days. I called him yesterday around lunch time to see how he was doing and after ringing about ten times it went to voicemail - a greeting in my mother's lilting voice. I temporarily lost it and when the "beep" sounded I began "Hi MoM, I MEAN DAD! its me..hi, its me"... (it went downhill from there). I hung up and called my sister, blubbering about the voicemail, she cut right to the chase about him not answering - she'd been trying to reach him for the past 24 hours. No surprise when she called me from his house about an hour later. "I'm going to finish this bottle and that'll be it." Yeah, right. So I guess Act Two has begun: The Functioning Alcoholic Rises From The Ashes. I thought we'd at least have a little intermission in between acts...
(Oh, and about that that "sign" I was wondering was actually a sign? When someone tells you a chilling story about how they were seriously hurt in a commuter plane that crashed in 1992 on the Blue Route (an interstate in Philly) and experienced a fleeting near-death-out-of-body experience, floating above the wreckage and "now knows beyond a doubt" that there was a definite "choice" to continue dying or "go back" - then tops it off by saying to you "so, *I* might be your sign"... jeez, I asked for something really obvious but I didn't expect my "sign" to TELL me it was my sign!

switters said...

topazz, some of us are better off drunk. saves the family some trouble id'ing the body. you've not talked much about your dad. none of my business. but boy i wish i'd...

rundeep said...

switters. 19 beers a night! Sweet Jesus. That's a tad more than a bad habit. No, I'm not pregnant, thank God. Just trying to get a jump on the pre-spring weight loss. If it only warms up tomorrow, the dogs and i will get back to our 6 mi a day instead of chasing the glow in the dark chuck-it ball, which is plenty of fun, but not such good exercise for me. At that point, I'm going to have a glass or two and chuckle hilariously for about an hour. (BTW the pic is my mom in 1951.)

T -- really? I'm leery of self-identified signs, but hell, that's pretty significant. How did the topic come up?

topazz said...

Ever wonder why psychiatrists never say "TELL ME ABOUT YOUR FATHER" more often? Because its always about Mom. http://freudian-slip.urbanup.com/323027

My father would have been dead and buried long ago if it weren't for my mother. There were many of us helping, but he was the mainstay, spending the last five years taking care of her as she became progressively weaker and more housebound. He remained a "functioning" alcoholic because everything depended on his "being there" for her. And he was. He had a slip here and there, but they were extremely rare. He redeemed himself in her eyes and found meaning and purpose in his life again - through her illness. He showed amazing patience and kindness (she went in and out of severe depressions after becoming confined to the house) But now that's all been taken from him, along with her. Can you imagine losing someone you've raised 8 children with, been married to for 62 years? I can't even fathom how big this loss must feel for him. But we can't let him drink over his sorrow. Because it would take away all that he became. And it would happen really fast, too.

topazz said...

Maria, it was a good friend from my work, we were having lunch this week and got into a discussion about death and grief and the rituals we comfort ourselves with. I explained how sitting there with my mother minutes after she had died, I really felt strongly that she was gone in both body and soul, yet what about how unwaivering her faith was? I couldn't just dismiss it. My brother thinks the moment of death is also a moment of great enlightenment, the "big surprise" is that we finally know and understand everything - then in the next second we're gone forever. She disagreed, and that's when she confided the plane crash story to me. I'm leery too, but she looked me directly in the eyes and said "What if I'm your sign?" Kind of threw me.

switters said...

topazz, i meant neither to pry nor to offend. i'd like to thank you for telling me about your dad. i truly don't know what to say. my brothers were over here last saturday helping me split ash wood. i was under the impression that my mom was very strong after dad died. they told me that wasn't the case. they told me that the strongest woman any of us ever knew was crushed. that she pretended not to be for the sake of her youngest. same when she died. she tried to protect me to the very end. and i'm sick with regret. so thank you. let me tell you this: when dad died, i was lost. but when mom died it seems like the best part of me died with her.

run, 19 may have been a high estimate, no pun intended. i wish i had your discipline, and your character. today seems like the first day above freezing for a month. moonpie is all but begging me to come and work, okay, play, outside. time to gas up the saw. almost warm enough to let the fire die down and give the stove a good cleaning.

topazz said...

swits, don't let the best part of you die with your mom or with anyone. You're still young and very much alive and extremely talented. And as far as your mother *protecting* you; every mother worth her salt has a unique and different relationship with each one of her children. The fact that your mother let both of your older brothers see her vulnerability after your dad died may have occurred because she needed them to be strong at that time, it probably helped them a great deal to be able to help her. Despite conventional wisdom and/or what everyone likes to believe, a mother's feelings are never "equal" among all of her children when she has more than one, how could they be when every child is as different as they can be. We had eight kids in my family and this really was the case with my mom and I see it with my own kids too. The fact that your mother wanted to protect you shouldn't upset you, it wasn't any failing on your part - it was probably that she couldnt help it, you were her youngest and that always influenced how she felt about you all of her life and yours, not just when she was dying. It may also be that she saw a particular sensitivity in you and she couldn't bear to add anything more to it. Mothers are intuitive like that. My mother was, especially with my oldest brother - and she ended up taking her last breath with his arms around her. He felt like it was one of the greatest gifts she could have given to him, because for the past 29 years he lived 3000 miles away in California - and his visits were few and far between. I imagine there was a little guilt over that on his part, but mothers don't expect their grown children to stay attached to their hips forever. I'm sure your mother didn't either.

Cindy said...

Today a dear friend of mine lost her mother (after burying her mother's mother yesterday morning). And another friend had to succumb to a nursing home for her elderly, frail and confused mother.

I'm heartbroken for them. One is a year older than me, one a year younger. My mother is off on a four day driving trip with my dad.

I'm so lucky.

We are all so lucky to have even a shred of consciousness about any of this. I spent so much of my youth oblivious, and focused on a slim array of possibilities and desires.

Now, it's different.

Companionship and being willing to listen to a story, a fear, a plea from a friend... oh this is a gift indeed.

Switters, I don't have a son, but I do have brothers. And my youngest sibling is brother. He is a smidge older than you. We would all go to great lengths to protect him, and love him. He is our love sponge.

My mom has never been much of a hugger, nor much of a sentimentalist. Pragmatic, a bit bossy, completely capable. That's more her style.

But with my youngest brother ... oh she is able to be very different indeed. It is a good thing.

Michael said...

Hi everybody. Smutty had a close call today. My sister called to tell me she was taking our mom to the hospital. 3 days of vomiting, body-aches, turns out it's a stomach virus. She's back home. Hope nobody minds me joining this discussion but it seemed the right place to stop by.

Topazz, I wish I was good with words. Something about you going through her closet and putting on her hat and coat.

Switters, you didn't ask my advice so obviously I'm going to offer it anyway. Buddy, drinking alcohol is a bad idea during times of stress. Bad bad bad. Wanna see my scar? Chain smoking too, but at least it doesn't make us dim-witted. Moderation in all things, including moderation, but drinking doesn't even really dull the senses enough to accomplish what we think we're accomplishing. I'm as open-minded as anyone when it comes to self-medicating; weed and me are good friends, but alcohol is not our friend, my friend.

6 weeks until spring.

Ash eh? Baseball bat firewood. Cool.

rundeep said...

Cindy, Topes, you guys are awesome. Those were some beautiful, inspiring and totally true comments. I hope I am half as good a Mom as you both. Mike, good to see you man. Sorry you are going through the ups/downs with your Mom also. That these things are inevitable is no comfort at all is it?

Michael said...

RD~ Knowing that these things are inevitable isn't any comfort, but it is nice, helpful, to read the thoughts of others who are dealing with the same harsh realities. Family and friends are all we have really.

Cindy said...

Michael - close calls are fortunate indeed! So glad your mom is feeling better.

Switters and rundeep - I guess you guys don't want to hear that my nieces are coming over to harvest some carrots, brocoli, spinach and lettuce today, do you?

In three days I will have another guest room. It's comfy. Very quiet.

Except for the cats.

topazz said...

Michael - thanks, I was so sure it was the end back when I wrote that hat & coat piece for quiblit, but she rallied and gave us a couple more years. I hope the same for your mother! (Am I the only one who finds it funny that we're all comiserating about our mothers on a piece called "WHITE FANG"???)

Michael said...

Thanks Topes, I'll tell her my friends send their best. Your coat & hat piece was a wonderful tribute to your mom.