Saturday, April 30, 2011

4/30/2011 James Russell Berry

(I wrote this Saturday but didn't want to post it until notification had gone out.)

My father passed away tonight.

I got the call from the nursing home at around 7pm, he had just died a few minutes before. The kind night nurse gave me lots of details, but I couldn't hear a thing she said. I was overcome with shock and sadness and the mourning I've not been able to have for many years. Though I knew I'd want to know what she was saying, I intensely wanted to be with my brother and sister, and hurried off the phone to call them right away.

Dave took care of the kids while I talked to my siblings and absorbed it all. I felt like I'd just lost the father I knew before Alzheimer's slowly chipped away at his mind, leaving behind just a few familiar gestures and facial expressions. It's like the whole 10 years of taking care of someone slowly succumbing to dementia never happened. Now that I could freely remember him the way he was, I really wanted to, so looked through some old pictures.

This is a rare photo of him and me, in January 1966 when I was 2. I have many memories of sitting on my father's lap and talking with him; we did that up until I was 11 or 12. I like this picture because it reminds me that he really loved me, even though I drove him crazy sometimes and we argued a lot.

Many photos of my Dad are with one arm leaning against something, the other arm perched on his hip, and with one foot crossing the other. I think this photo was taken on our 5-week summer cross-country camping trip, in our 1969 VW squareback.

Alzheimer's is such robbery. My father was only 78 when he died, but he was clearly showing symptoms when he was only 68. 68 and 78 are when I should really have been able to enjoy him, when his childraising responsibilities, and resentments at not really meeting them, were long over.

(November 1999 I think)

Though the logistics of raising children weren't his strong suit, he was always warm and loving and extremely affectionate with us. He'd have made a much better grandfather, when his childlike side could come out and be put away quickly as soon as children become annoying and are handed back to their rightful owners.

With time and age, disappointments and anger about childhood failings had been met and resolved and accepted, and given way to appreciating the many things we did share and the solid bond and love we had. I'd love to be able call him and share new insights or funny stories about kids, and listen to him marvel at some idea I had or laugh heartily at something I said. Alzheimer's took that away from us.

And now the good memories are flooding in. Some had been bad memories that I can now look at differently with the privilege of retrospect, and laugh about. Now instead of being sad that I can't call my Dad and chat with him because he's in late-stage Alzheimer's, I can be glad about the times that I did call him, before the disease blocked his mind and memories and ability to speak. Death brings with it closure, an elusive luxury for Alzheimer's families.

Now, I can finally remember my relationship my father in retrospect and smile about it.


4/30/2011 Neighborhood kids

A most unusual sound coming from our backyard today: children! Four neighborhood boys found their way into our backyard today, and were playing ball and riding bicycles with Julian.

As normal an American scene as that might seem, this is still Cupertino (effectively), which means the non-English-speaking grandmother isn't far away. I felt bad for this lady sitting outside waiting for her charges, for hours, but I had a lot to do, I wasn't about to invite her in. I did try to talk to her, but she couldn't communicate at all.

One of the boys Julian was playing with is a 2nd-grader at his school, so he knows him. The boy's younger brother is going into kindergarten next year -- maybe he'll be in Katrina's class. The boy is also in the same soccer league that Gabriel is in, though in a different age division. Who knows -- maybe there is some hope yet for this neighborhood, and they'll be allowed to play together without the poor grandmother dogging them.

Speaking of community and kids, today Gabriel's soccer team had its official team photo. It was missing much of the official team, however.

Today's game was also missing much of the official team -- Gabriel's team was short one player, and there was no subbing at all.

Still, despite being short one player, Gabriel's team blew away its competition again, scoring 3 goals in the first few minutes of the game. Our coach had to impose measures in the first quarter, such as a "two-touch" then a "one-touch" rule, and telling the star Ivan not to score.

Gabriel was goalie for the 1st half of the game (too long in my opinion, no other players are ever goalie for more than a quarter). His teammates tried to stick him with goalie in the 2nd half too, but the coach insisted on a rotation. He had a good reason too: he needed to name the weaker players as the only ones who could score.

So in the 2nd half of the game, Gabriel was one of two "strikers," meaning one of only two kids on his team allowed to score. Gabriel assumed this was because he was one of the better players, but I straightened him out on that one. He had a few chances to score but didn't take the shots for some reason. Winning didn't matter by now because the game had been won in the first quarter. Many of Gabriel's teammates are just too good for this division, and will move to "U12" (under 12) in the fall, even though they're just 8 or 9 now. They'd already moved to this "U10" division when they were 6 and 7.

Soccer in the fall will be tough, but maybe a little easier if we actually get to know some of the other parents around here?!


Thursday, April 28, 2011

4/28/2011 Life and death

We had an interesting scare today.

My father was sick, with a temperature topping 104 degrees. My brother and sister and I agreed some time ago to put him under so-called "comfort measures," which means directing medical staff to keep him comfortable, but not to take any measures to save his life. He has a respiratory illness, and pneumonia has been making the rounds at his nursing home, so this was the concern. If he did have have pneumonia it could mean morphine to ease his pain, but no antibiotics to cure the illness.

When you've been dealing with a parent with Alzheimer's for 10 years, such news brings with it a mixture of fear and guilty relief -- even hope. It seems so wrong to feel uplifted, to think that maybe this finally means an end -- but it's what we all think anyway. My father himself would have been the first to chime in with a hearty chuckle, "Oh GOSH yes, just put me out of my misery already!" In his advanced stages of Alzheimer's, my father probably isn't unhappy now, but for us it would mean our prolonged mourning at his loss finally leading to closure.

Other cultures embrace death, and see it as a passage to a higher world, a better place. My father would like have been philosophical about it too, though I tend to see things more literally. To me, it really is an end. Perhaps that explains the instinctive taboo, the immediate resistance to the idea, even when all parties secretly agree it would be the best thing.

My brother reports that my Dad's temperature broke, and he's likely in for several more years of a happy, to him, life. My Dad himself wouldn't have called his current existence "life," as he was fiercely independent, and perhaps for that reason death won't seem so bad. I hope I really still feel that way when it really comes.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

4/27/2011 Spring pics

We get hit with three photo-ops a year at school: a kids' official school in the beginning of the schoolyear, a class photo, and then "spring pictures."

This latter is especially silly and gratuituous, but they know we loving doting parents can't resist a professional photo of our kid. And though they're pretty dorky, I actually like them better than the sterile headshots they take in the beginning of the year.

So here they are. Shot on greenscreen, with the lighthouse superimposed after the fact. Yes, dorky!

But look at these two handsome guys. I just love them. Needing haircuts, looking like a 1950s nerd with the shirt tucked in, whatever. I can never get enough of these boys.

Speaking of spring pictures, I'm really liking how our landscaping is blooming. I look forward to rounding the corner and seeing what's flowered lately, what's spread out, what's sprouted. The maintenance aspect makes me cringe, and there are some plants I'd like to replace, or ones that have died or empty spots that need new plants. But overall it's really fun to see what our "gardens" have in store for us day by day.

These pictures don't do it justice, but here's a glimpse.

Now if only I could feel the same pride about the inside of our house!!


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

4/26/2011 Eerie quiet

My, it's been quiet lately at work, with Mr. Horrible avoiding everyone he sees as key players in an attempt to discredit him. That's pretty tough to do.

I met with the VP of HR yesterday and laid it all out on the line. She and another HR person have a lot work ahead of them -- where do they start? I can't see how he can slide out of this one. What I've said is too strong. But we tried this once before and failed, so, why not again.

This must end so I can back to kids, baking, scrapbooking and School Staff Appreciation luncheons!!!


Monday, April 25, 2011

4/25/2011 Raspy Monday

Well, I did it! I talked to my company's VP of HR and another HR person about our issues. I laid it ALL out -- no dancing around, no preserving feelings, no avoiding sensitive open secrets. I'm ready for it all to come hangin' out.

That sure is easy to say when you're in the company of two welcoming women in HR. It's another thing entirely when you're in the room with the enemy in question, and his very formidable boss (a CTO who I like and respect despite serious doubts about his judgement in character), and a bunch of other guys from a vendor. It was a big meeting for which I was mostly able to stay silent, but I saw how the vendors fawned all over Mr.H., falling all over themselves to forgive him for any technical gaffe me had. The man has a talent. And I'm going to go up against that?

Well, yes. My professional integrity and reputation are on the line, and I'm not going to let this one insecure, childlike, vindictive, even evil, person soil that. But that's a lot scarier than it sounds. ~~~~ Channeling ~~~~ Norma ~~~~~ Rae ~~~~~~ come ~~~ in ~~~~ please ~~~~~~~

Though I feel more like my days are numbered at this job than ever, I also feel like I might make a difference now. A negative one at first, perhaps, but something HAS to change.

An interesting angle to all the talking I've done today is a partial voice loss. I sound rough, but I can talk pretty well if I jump-start my voice. It elicits all sorts of sympathy, as people misunderstand that I must be in terrible pain. I'm not sure if it makes me sound more sympathetic or weaker. It's funny how it worries the kids though: "Mommy. WHAT happened to your voice?!"

My voice is the last thing I'm worried about right now. Yesterday it was my psyche, but that's been uplifted. Today it's my rear end, which will also soon be uplifted -- and tossed right out the door! Well fine then, I'll ride the magic moral carpet of Having Done The Right Thing all the way to the unemployment office.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

4/24/2011 Easter Sunday

We received a generous invitation for an Easter brunch for our longtime friends, the White family. Once again, I was caught with having nothing nice to wear for the kids, not that they'd have gone along with that anyway.

But -- doh! Katrina has some very lovely dressy dresses, hand-me-downs, just perfect for the occasion. I forgot all about that. Drat. She'll probably outgrown them by next year. What a dope I am! Katrina's new pal Emily brought Grandma with her, and Grandma saw to it that Emily was very lovely indeed!

Still, it was fun catching up with old and new friends, chatting up kids and school and food. It was a much-needed break from the intense stress of the unknowns in my daily life.

Of course, the highlight is the egg hunt! Little kids get a short head-start, but they're still no match for the 3rd-graders.

A little teamwork helped though.

Then it was time to go home and face life again: getting the house ready for the cleaners, grocery-shopping. Actually it felt good and bad to be normal again. Seems April has been filled with things that were a real stretch for me: skiing, a long ride to Death Valley, spending hours preparing for the biggest upheaval at work I've ever experienced in my career. I'm just not sure what to do with a regular weekend -- the garage needs cleaning, kids' clothes need sorting, I really need to hang some pictures.....the more mundane, the more gratefully normal and grounded. It's just that .... maybe I do better on the outside of my element instead of smack dab in it. I'm sure as heck no star at "normal" after all.

I think I'll feel better when I've planned a trip, signed up for a daycamp, or bought another new tent. Meantime, something as "normal" as watching kids in glee over finding things in a yard, is as close to normal as I'll get for a while. Maybe I just need to bake something.