Husbands and Fathers

Let me start by introducing you to Cow. Everyone should have their very own sacred stuff totem animal – mine comes in the form of a 4 inch tall jersey spotted mad cow complete with crazy eyes and a tongue hanging out of his mouth. If you squeeze him, he laughs maniacally. Over the years, he’s been my travel companion. When Keith got sick, Cow was ever present. He swapped labels on the samples in the lab, he sat on Keith’s head after his colonoscopy, he brought fried rice and yogurt to the hospital, he ate the lemon merrange pie from the hospital tray, he brought back the rasta Tigger from Jamaica, and on the eve of Keith’s last day with us, Cow was the only one to get a reaction out of him.

I was explaining Cow to Keith’s niece, Mel, and to fully demonstrate Cow’s many talents, I gave the little bovine a squeeze. As soon as his crazy moo laughing started, Keith’s right eyebrow shot straight up into the air. All of us in the room were a little jealous of Cow for being the recipient of the most definitive reaction to anyone that day. It brought to mind receiving the same reaction from Keith when I went bounding into the sunroom in late October to show off my Fall fairy costume complete with towering gauze wings. I got the same eyebrow then and Keith said to me “please promise me your not going to do anything stupid while I am sick”. Me? Never . . . Silly, yes . . . Stupid, no.

Today, Cow traveled with me to UMMC to be by my dad’s side for his second procedure. It was a big day for us all. I’ll start with the good news before carrying on with the details. The doctors conducted an internal ultrasound exploritory procedure at the bile duct site where his original stent had been placed. They also did a biopsy and some scrapings. They did not see any tumors pressing on the site so we are one step closer to ruling out cancer. They still can not determine why the duct still remains constricted and did replace the old stent with a new larger one. Dad came out of surgery with a sore throat and a big thirst but otherwise is doing well. He’s catching up on his sleep as I write this.

So now for the details. Our co-worker Jay (yep, another Jay) drove Dad to the hospital while I drove over to meet them. We all got there way before the scheduled time and hung out in the lobby talking shop. Dad went to pre-op and Jay and I followed. Jay was indispensable. He was joking around and had us both laughing about Dad starting his own Barbie doll clothing line that could be called “the Lankford collection”. Dad shared the story of his allergic reaction to a muscle relaxer that is now so obsolete that one of the medical team tried to google it out of curiosity. Everyone in scrubs kept asking about his allergies to latex and eggs. Finally, after telling them he wasn’t allergic for the fourth time, they figured out that one of their staff members had misread the medical questionaire we had completed. One item on the form stated “circle all that apply”. Afterwards, there was a long list of medical allergies. We properly had completed the form by not circling any of them. The person transcribing the form didn’t catch the “circle all that apply” so they thought the list that followed was a list of allergies. Whoops!

We called Mom after talking with the doctors and she asked if I had Cow with me. Dad made the comment that the last time Cow made an appearance in a hospital, the patient he was with didn’t fair too well. We all started laughing, harder than even Cow would do. I told Dad that I had that same thought myself and that I didn’t want Cow causing any trouble till after the procedures. So Cow did remain in my bag until Dad was wheeled away. Of course, Cow joined Jay and I for lunch, and looked out the window in the waiting room, embarrassing Jay with a sudden outburst (now is that Cow or Cherish being silly?) and when Dad was in the recovery room, Cow snuck a peak at the charts. I can’t say for sure, but Cow may have even drawn a happy face on the discharge papers.

There has always been some strange medical connection between my Dad and Keith. They were travel companions from Colorado to Maryland in late August. Driving in the pouring rain, Dad was getting sick on the side of the road every few miles while they needed to make frequent restroom stops for Keith. Shortly after their return, Dad had his gall bladder removed on the same day that we got the first test results back indicating Keith had cancer. The Monday before Keith died, Dad sat in the ER, a lovely glowing shade of yellow. On December 15, Dad went into surgery that morning and Keith left us that evening. As Dad and I drove away from the hospital this afternoon, we talked about these odd connections. Dad said that the quickness that everything happened to Keith reminded him of the rabbit in that fable about the tortoise and the hare. Meanwhile, Dad is turtling along 5 years after his problems started and still trying to figure out what is wrong. The parallels between husband and father can be drawn, just on a different time line. We know how it turned out for Keith. I think that’s what makes all of this hard on Dad – where does the connection end? When do we stop stressing the similarities? I know we all think it and it scares us. What we all have to remember is one simple truth – the tortoise won the race.



Always Wear Your Helmet

On the top of our headboard sit two military issue helmets.  These are no ordinary helmets.  One is a brilliant mirror finished silver and the other is gleaming pristine white.  They ended up on our headboard as a joke really. Love is a battlefield, all’s fair in love and war, and always wear your helmet.  It followed in line with Keith’s famous line “love is blind and marriage is an eye-opener”.

We ended up with these silly hats about 5 years ago.  I can’t remember what other treasure the Great Pirate Keith managed to unearth through Government Liquidators, an auction site that he often went to for his eBay fodder.  What I do remember was his return from picking up the treasure.  At the time, we still used our office as the staging area before taking everything out to the garage.  So with Keith’s normal over-the-top excitement, he proceeded to carry in one giant box after another into the already cramped space around our computers.  Some boxes were blackened by warehouse soot and crushed to the point of not sitting still on the floor or on top of other, more stable boxes but that did not slow him down.  So the Great Pirate Keith started to pull treasures out of the boxes as quickly as he brought them in.  I sat and watched him with my usual amusement – he was always the best show in the house – and as he got closer to the bottom of the boxes, he literally would disappear into them and pop up like a jack-in-the-box with more surprises in each hand.

Well, on one of these disappearing dives, he ran across the helmets. He practically beamed at me as he pulled them out of the box, the silver one on his head while holding the white one in the other.  “Here, wear this.” Although at this point I was laughing loud and hard at Keith with his silver dome, I dutifully put it on my head.  There we were, in the office, surrounded by a sea of treasure-boxes, wearing our helmets.  Keith went on to explain that he talked one of the guys out of these special hats because he thought it would be cool if we had matching helmets.  Keep in mind – this man was SERIOUS when he was telling me about the score of the century for his lady love.  The whole time I’m giggling and thinking that flower wielding, chocolate giving Casanovas could learn a little something about romantic gestures from this man, who always sternly informed me from the day we met that he was not romantic at all.

Keith continued to unpack the boxes and I started to lend a hand.  All of a sudden, he stood bolt upright, bags of patches in both hands and looked at me with that wide eyed oh-no look.  He looked to the window on his right then to the window behind him and then at me.  He took his helmet off and said “we’ve been running around this office with the shades up and these helmets on our heads.  What will the neighbors think?”  So I took mine off and we placed our new toys next to our respective computers, where they sat until the eve of our marriage.  It was my best friend, Kitson, who inspired us to put them on the headboard.  She saw them on our computers and she and I put them on.  I told her the story of Keith bringing them home and she said something about keeping them around cause you should always wear your helmet when your fighting with your spouse.  Little did either of us know that the real battle was Keith’s cancer.

I went to Night Cat to watch Harper Blynn Wednesday night.  Brandon joined me, as well as Marcia (A.K.A. Rick Springfield friend) and her husband.  June and her sisters were there and made ready dance partners.  So was Zach’s friend Nikki with her giant Pikachu back pack.  It really was a very celebratory evening being surrounded by these wonderful people, listening to a band who I credit with giving me a song to stay in the battle with.  For those of you not on Facebook – here is the song:Bound to Break.  Needless to say, music is a magical thing and I had already had a glass of wine.  I smiled.  I cried. I really cried.  Marcia was suddenly there standing next to me and we held hands.  She’s A. K. A. Ninja friend now because she did the same thing while I was on the cruise.

Leading up to the show, I was honestly just shy of a weepy wallowing mess.  I even walked by the living room and did a double take because I sworn I had seen Keith sitting in the little pink chair, dressed in that grey windbreaker jacket that hung on him even when he was healthy.  It was just a split second and yet it seemed so real and in that space of that second I was euphoric.  With each step back to look, I sank so deep I couldn’t feel myself breath.  I found myself in the bedroom, staring at the helmets with the emptiness of having just found Keith for one brief fleeting moment only to lose him again.

After the show, there I was again staring at the helmets.  I felt lighter though.  Like dancing and crying could really make it better for a while.  I feel lighter even now.  There is still a battle we are all fighting.  Its different than the one Keith fought, but a battle none the less.  A battle to keep moving into an uncertain future, to learn to live without the person I thought I would grow old with, to find a way to do it on my own, to create a new life on the knowledge that there are no guarantees, to carry with me the Keith I loved so that he can still live on.  Lucky for me, the Great Pirate Keith gave me a helmet.


The New Normal

Tonight we reach another first – our one month anniversary of Keith’s passage from this world.   At the service, the Rabbi spoke of a need to return to normal for us morners, albeit a new normal.  It is happening, slowly but surely.  But this new normal is a strange thing.  Partly because it is so new.  Partly because there are pieces of my old normal, the me that existed before I met Keith, flowing into the me that existed as “us”, then flowing into each new day that moves me along my own path again.  

I ventured over to one of my first old normal “girls night in” on Friday and for the first time in months, I did not cry as I started driving out of town which was a refreshing new normal.  As I sit here and type this latest blog, I revel in my old normal of sipping tea on a cold winter’s night after spending the day doing old normal tidying up around the house.  This morning, I delighted in firing up the kitchen for an “us” normal big breakfast of potatoes, bacon, waffles, and fresh fruit and then banging on the bedroom doors to rouse Brandon and his friends who had slept over.  Brandon poured himself a big cup of new normal coffee and loaded it up with sugar and cream, just like his dad.  After lending Brandon’s friend a new normal pair of leggings, I was off on my “us” normal walk.  Bits and pieces of my life before and during Keith are swirling slowly together, like so many colors mixing together in paint, to create a life after him. 

I keep thinking about his spaghetti sauce.  Occasionally, a weekend would roll around and Keith would announce that he should make a big batch of red spaghetti sauce.  A couple of cans of diced tomatoes, one can of paste, lots of garlic, a couple of onions, a few pounds of ground meat, and several hours of simmering later – he’d grab up a slice of baguette, dip it in the sauce and announce that it was the best sauce he had ever made.  Then he’d point out that it would be better the next day.  Every batch, each time, was always the best sauce, better than before, and would be even better the next day.  That was his normal.  So it should be with me – alway the best, better than before, and even better the next day.

In honor of this first anniversary, here are the speeches from his memorial service:

Cherish’s Speech

Billy’s Speech

Cancer is so Limited – a poem by Robert L. Lynn read by Rabbi Peter Hyman. 

Happy Birthday to You!

Dear Keith:

We celebrated your birthday today.  I managed to get through your chicken alfredo without too many complications.  Although I have discovered that there is a definite perk to using the bottomless pot you always serve it in.  A pot that deep lets you pull the noodles loose from each other.  I should have known it served a purpose instead of trying to use a fancy shallow bowl.  Poor Jay, the very man who asked for the meal in exchange for building the wall was the last to arrive.  Shawn told him we ate everything and he needed to do the dishes.  Katie and Brandon picked on each other as usual.  Ginny brought brownies fresh out of the oven.  Agent Jay and Alex joined us as well.  I did my best channeling of my inner Keith and announced dessert before the table was cleared from dinner.  I missed having you around to cut the Carvel ice cream cake.  You always made it look so much easier than it is.

Brandon and I unwrapped your box and pulled your ammo case free.  We put you in the kitchen – it seemed like the perfect spot for you.  I know it was your favorite room.  Ginny and Katie suggested that we put Grommit with you.  In fact, some of us are convinced you left us so soon so that you could meet up with our little Grommie-dog.  I know you missed her when she left us in July and I missed seeing you stretched out, sound asleep on the couch with Grommit sitting on your pillow right above your head.  When she was a little more spry,  you’d call her up into your lap after finishing dinner so she could lick your plate.  We all started to laugh about one of these occasions when she jumped into your lap and then proceeded to wipe her butt on your white tee-shirt, leaving a distinct brown stripe right down the front.

Although I have been a bit morose today, it is getting a little easier each day.  Henry said it best when I was on the phone with him this evening and he said the only thing that will make it better is time and love.  I’m so grateful for all the love our friends and family have extended to us.  They have all been there for us, during your illness, your death, and supporting us now that you are gone.  They are even asking how your father-in-law is doing.  Your cousin Patricia asked me how he was doing in a message on Facebook.  Here is what he posted on his page to update everyone:

“I am to go to the University of Maryland hospital in Baltimore on Jan. 25 to have a followup procedure on the blocked bile duct. At this time it is expected to be an out patient process. Cherish will be with me as Sharon will be in Florida taking care of her parents. I still test positive for cancer but the indicator levels are going down. At this time it is looking like a false positive reading. It is believed the stress of the blocked duct many have caused the liver and pancreas to elevate the readings. After the duct is fixed it is hoped the indicator will go away. Time will tell. Thanks for all the support.”

I guess I don’t have to tell you that the good news of a false positive is tainted with the knowledge that you had such positive news yourself just a few short weeks before you left.  It still doesn’t taint our hope that this is all curable, fixable, beatable.  We do have both time and love on our side.


An Organized House in a Crazy World

Twelve years ago, I was fighting my way through a divorce and discovered that when I am stressed and depressed, I have an overwhelming urge to organize.  Sure there is some cleaning involved, but it isn’t squeaky, gleaming, sanitizing, pass the health department glove test cleaning.  Its just picking up the debris in every inch of the house no matter how large or small.

So, the cycle has begun again.  I am organizing.  There is a big fat irony here.  I’m not organizing half the stuff left over from a marriage like before.  This time, I’m organizing my late husband’s accumulations of astronomical proportions.  We are talking about an entire garage of eBay fodder stacked so high that you can not see from one wall to the other, a storage unit’s leftovers from his mother’s passing 10 years ago, a house filled with boxes and storage bins and bags and canisters and dishes of myriad collections of stamps, coins, tins, receipts, pencils, note pads, lunch bags, shoes, baseball cards, business cards, computer parts, blankets, pin backs, cologne bottles, magazines, tee shirts, watches, x-ray films, canceled checks . . .  and some of the boxes that moved into this house in 1997 have yet to be opened.

This situation I am currently in is one more reminder of how Keith and I were total opposites.  In the years that I knew him, our pattern was always the same.  He would collect and I would find a place to store the collection.  I threatened him shortly after he was diagnosed with his cancer that he could not leave me with all his stuff.  He did it any way. Even I knew that my request was a foolish one and I see now that he didn’t leave me stuff but a grand organizational task to satiate my need to straighten up my corner of the world.  I think I scared Brandon a little because in the week I was alone, organizational grief had struck. So upon his return from New York Saturday, I had started stalking him around the house to make sure everything he used was as I had left it.  He acclimated quickly to his new crazy step-mother though and jumped right in on the organizational wagon.  He folded all the towels, organized the guns in the safe, did a silicone patch on some siding, ran new cable under the house, and got all his clothes put away.

With the help of Jay Frase and Shawn, we also knocked out putting shelves up in the guest room, mounting my TV, and cleaning up the driveway.   Here is big fat irony number two – in all the clutter, we could not find the bracket for the shelves, 2 inch drywall screws or a silicone gun.  Brandon eventually found the gun in the driveway, but Jay, Shawn and I had to drive to Lowes to buy the brackets and the screws.  I think Keith overheard our grumblings about having to clean up his mess and hid them to teach us a lesson.

Now that I have gone through his 6,500 unread emails (and that is not an exaggeration), dusted off all the containers full of all the collections, and started filling out all that paperwork that appears after someone leaves, I believe that there will be plenty to organize for a long time to come.  It doesn’t stop the pain or fill the hole or keep back the tears, but it does take my full attention away from the true depth of those feelings and tires me out enough to sleep at night.  If nothing else, at least I know where I put the box of 2 inch drywall screws.


A New Year

So I just read on Facebook that the Captain of the Selina II lost her father on New Years Day. The question that comes to my mind is “What makes me lucky enough to wipe the slate clean and step into 2012 wrapped in a blanket of boundless hope, while my fellow friend must start it by saying goodbye forever?”. When did the human race draw a line in the sand between December and January?

I don’t know that I have made any conscious resolutions but they seem to be existing quite by accident. I have been cleaning the kitchen everyday and finding myself wanting to always keep it clean. I spent my first day off in the new year lounging around all day eating pretzel M&Ms, watching Battlestar Galatica, and practically doing – well – nothing important. I thought to myself that an occasional gluttonous lazy day would be a good thing to schedule again. When I picked up dog food at Walmart tonight, I read the clerk’s name tag and thanked Cindy for taking care of me. This was something Keith always did and the closet introvert that I am excite in my ability to do it. So did I intentionally make resolutions? If you don’t consider consciously deciding to keep the kitchen clean, scheduling indulgent “me” days, and calling all the people who serve me by their names, sure – but they are starting to feel like resolutions to me even though I never spoke them out loud or wrote them down.

So maybe we draw that line in the sand because we believe that it can always get better. We draw it to give ourselves permission to forgive our past, to escape the hurt, and find a way to shed the bad so we can carry the best parts of ourselves forward. Or maybe it’s just as simple as the thrill of seeing Cindy smile after hearing her name.

I hope you all move forward, even without our Keith.