From Grand Rapids…

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I've been in Grand Rapids, MI, since Monday. I came in to teach and lecture on Tuesday and Wednesday at the West MIchigan Quilt Guild but had Monday afternoon to do something fun. Diane took me downtown for lunch and to see some of the art dispayed in the Art Prize exhibit.The weather was cool and not rainy when I took the photo above but rainy later. I am living in drought-world so I seriously enjoyed the cool rainy days. I also got to see some of the leaves already turning – I think at home our leaves are going to turn brown and fall off.

Diane reminded me of the video made in Grand Rapids that I posted a few weeks ago. Remember this? Grand Rapids is a lovely city – neither too big nor too small and full of fun in interesting people. I am here during the Art Prize competition. The city offers a 1st prize of $250,000 to the artist whose work is voted best by the people of Grand Rapids. There are more prizes as well.

Artists from all over the globe enter and their work is sprinked throughout downtown in museums, restaurants, outdoors… everywhere. It's huge and exciting and lots and lots and lots of people go out to see the art and vote. Why don't other places do this!?


I didn't take many photos of the art. The project above is a collage of 365 photos – one taken each day for a year – arranged to form an eye when see from afar. I should have taken more photos but was a little worried about copyright infringement. We went to the art musem and I couldn't help but take a photo of the chairs below. I don't know if they are comfortable but they were so pretty! Like leaves blown in place around the tables.


We ate lunch at the BOB which stands for Big Old Building. Diane said that that's what people called the empty old building that used to house some sort of manufacturing business. It was renovated and now houses a variety of restaurants and bars on at least 3 levels. The food was good and art that was hung there was really nice. The piece I remember most from there was called Glitter Girl – an image made from thousands of small sequins that was really lovely.

The wall around the elevator on the 2nd floor of the BOB was covered with these smashed cans….


I gotta tell you – this was a very interesting wall. The cans were very smashed and screwed to the wall. The texture and color was great and I am trying to think of a space inside or outside my house that I can put up a similar one.


On the way back to the car we passed a window where a man was sitting. Except that he was so very still that he looked like a sculpture. We had just seen a sculpture of Gerald Ford that was just as lifelike. I had to go back and take his photo. The only thing that moved was one finger on his phone. He never knew I was there. I wish the glass and reflections were not there. I want to work on this image in photoshop – crop out the distracting background – later, when I have some time.

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I fly out really early in the morning so I'll sign off now…

Marking things off the list…

It seems strange to blog about normal things after so many days of blogging about life, death, and family but my life is getting back to normal and I like normal a lot.

Remember this?


This is the dresser (with matching chest) that Steve was stripping for our bedroom in August. I wrote about it here. After much work, stripping and sanding and refinishing we ended up with two pieces that looked like this:


Luckily we like a distressed look because the paint would just not all come off. These pieces date to the 1950s and are solid and work well but the ends of each piece is masonite! We were both surprised by that. (FYI:  I spray painted the hardware.)

After living with these pieces unfinished for a while I decided to wallpaper the ends. Wallpaper is not very popular right now unless it is high-end, art-y, and expensive. I didn't have time for an internet search and I really didn't want to spend a fortune so I went to Lowe's where the selection is limited but interesting. I ended up with a pattern called 'purple lace' – in brown and green. The saleswoman and I had to puzzle over that for a while, hoping that the roll would come in the correct color and not purple.


Here's my dresser:


Steve says he likes our old furniture better but Mom is using it and she likes it better too :-).

Also on my list is to take photos of the finished rooms at Mom's house. I've tried and it's not as easy as it sounds. But it is on the list!

Life goes on…

First let me say thank you to one and all for your kind words and good wishes. They did, and do, help a lot.

My last post was on Monday, the day Christy died. Odd to think that today is less than a week away from that day. So much has happened and I figure that you all would like to be caught up on the news. Monday afternoon was filled with important errands, a visit to the lawyer, and dinner. I think every night since last Monday, dinner has been an event with extra people.

Mom and I started sorting through papers Tuesday morning. I found Christy’s will in a bag with her purses. She was actually a pretty organized person so I don’t know how it ended up there. I also found the receipt from her favorite watch, the links that she had had removed, and the watch itself. Mom said she thought Christy would want me to have it and I’ve worn it daily since then. I find I’m enjoying it as a reminder of my sister and because it’s a nice watch. (Christy loved good bling.)

Jeff flew in from Baltimore on Tuesday. He helped mom notify all of the people that needed to know about Christy’s death. Christy died with a lot of medical debt and just about no assets. Once the dust settles and we have death certificates Mom will have to decide how to divide the bit of money between those who want it.

Jeff went with mom to get car insurance. Luckily the title papers that she filed on Monday were what she needed. They went to lunch. Honestly I think they had a very nice day. Mom doesn’t get to spend time one-on-one with Jeff very often. He was the perfect person to help her with what had to be done that day. I’m not sure what I did on Tuesday, but I was busy.

The funeral mass was scheduled for Thursday in Sherman, the burial service for Friday in OKC. Both were followed by lunch for those who attended. Wednesday was busy getting everything ready for Thursday and Friday. Among the many errands we ran on Wednesday was a meeting with Fr. Jeremy Myers, our parish priest. He had not met Christy and wanted us to talk to him about her. We also went to the funeral home to pick up Christy in her lovely wooden box. I printed this photo of her to put next to her box at both services. It’s also the photo that ran with her obituary. Christopher wrote the obituary and he did a great job.


I’m here to tell you that cremation is a lot more casual that your regular ‘body in a casket’ funeral. For one thing, a box of cremains (a word that drives me crazy so that’s the last you will read it here) is easy to carry. It’s hard to be formal with a box the size of a cereal box. Christy road home in the back seat and was at mom’s house for the dinner that night.

Linda and Paul arrived in Sherman as well. A few of our friends rounded out the group. It’s odd to think that the first party at mom’s new house was this dinner, but it was. And it was nice!

It was rainy and cooler on Thursday – perfect weather for my sister who loved rainy days. The rest of us were happy to see rain too since we’re in the middle of a drought. Fr. Jeremy gave the best funeral sermon I have ever heard. It wasn’t just my opinion – it seemed to the general consensus. Mom said later that it was really comforting. The lunch was very nice and there was time to visit with a variety of family and friends. Afterwards, Steve took Christy back to the car for the ride home.

Thursday afternoon we realized that the afternoon was free. Mom wanted to chill, run her own errands in her car, by herself thank you very much. Linda and I decided to go to McKinney to shop for fabric at the Quilt Asylum.

Linda and I were doing a serious stash re-stocking. Here’s my pile:


Linda had a similar pile. We got home in time for, you guessed it, dinner!

Friday morning we headed north to OKC for the burial service. It took three cars, mom and Christy rode with me and Steve. The kids were in separate cars. It was surprisingly cold in OKC, and thunderstormy. I did not choose my outfit wisely and just about froze. Mom was much better prepared. Deacon Dennis Frazier presided at this service. He had met Christy several times in the hospital and he remembered her well. She liked him a lot so it was nice that he was able to do this.

A funeral, in my opinion, should be less weepy and more happy. Both of Christy’s services and the lunches after were happy celebrations of her life. We got to visit family and mom especially got to see friends she had not seen in a while.

After lunch the rest of our group went home to Texas. Mom and I spent the night with my dad’s cousin who has always been Aunt Pat to me. Aunt Pat helped us set up the service and llunch in OKC and was generally very helpful. It’s so nice to have good people around your!

We took some time after lunch for mom to choose Christy’s marker. Then we had the afternoon free (again) and I asked mom where she might want to go since she might not be back in OKC again for a while. We went to JC Penney’s at Penn Square, the big mall by her old house. We checked out her old house and she was happy to see that it looked just the same. And then we went to her favorite antique store where she found an orange and red chicken dish and a pottery vase. The visit with Aunt Pat was lovely, we slept well, and stopped at Big Truck Tacos on the way out of town for a breakfast taco.

That was yesterday, Saturday. I got home and helped Steve finish the house cleaning and then we set the house up for the beginning of the year biology department party. We host this party pretty often and really enjoy it – and we enjoyed it again last night. Life goes on – and I’m glad it does.

I did learn some more things about funerals over the last few days that I can share with you:

  • People want to bring you food and sometimes that’s good. But mom is diabetic and really did not want a full refrigerator. We put the word out to please not bring food. You can do that – don’t be afraid to say what you mean. (That said, our close friends did bring food for the dinner on Wednesday and, Jacquie, the basket with the wine, crackers, and coffee was much appreciated.)
  • Think through how the box of ashes/cremains is going to actually get into the ground. I had sort of joked the night before that we might get to the gravesite and have to drop Christy into the hole. Everyone said that, no, there would be a something there – a person, an aparatus, something. Guess what? There was a hole about 18″ deep and a guy off to the side in coveralls with a shovel. It was cold and wet, Steve had Christy, prayers were said and then there was a moment when I thought to myself that dropping her into the hole might happen. I’m so glad I was not carrying Christy – who knows what I would have done. Steve got down on his knee and placed her carefully in the ground. At this point mom had a good cry and her friends and family were there to support her. Mom threw in a bit of dirt and headed to the car. I went with her. Steve, the boys, their wives, and Elanor and Jack stayed until the grass was on top of Christy.
  • I had not thought about staying for the whole burial. It didn’t take long – small hole. If I had thought about it, mom and I could have talked about if she wanted to stay to the end. I don’t know that she would have and was not unhappy about how it went, but it is something to consider if you are planning this sort of service.

I think that’s it. If I think of more I’ll let you know. Tomorrow is Monday, the beginning of a work week and I’ll be right here, at my computer, working, enjoying being alive.

10:47 AM or thereabouts…

Christy died at 10:42 AM today. Steve was there and he said she went very peacefully.

My sister had a sense of humor right until the end, whether she meant to or not. Mom and I had gone to the bank to get mom signed onto Christy's bank account. Here's a thing I didn't know before: In Texas the power of attorney stops at death. When we were at the bank, Christy was alive. No problem.

Then mom went to the title office to get the car title switched to her name. Mom and Christy have shared that car for years and used to be on the same title. But when they moved and Chrisity had had seizures I told mom that it might be good not to be on the title with her. Christy agreed (although she promised not to have a seizure while driving) and so the car was in Christy's name. We both knew that Christy was not going to be driving again and mom would be and the insurance needed to be in mom's name and she had to have a car… see? This is why you need to think about these things while you still can.

The title change happened at 10:47. We will have to wait and see who decided on the time of Christy's death to know if mom can really be on the title or not. The car in question is a 10-year-old Mustang that mom just paid $1300+ to have the brakes re-done on. (Seriously, be careful what fluid you pour into the brake fluid port on your car. Christy chose unwisely.) The brakes are worth more than the car but it may be that Christy's creditors want the car. Part of the funny thing to me is realizing that my 79-year-old mother is driving a silver Mustang that is loud and powerful. Gives one pause. The other funny thing is that my sister, the master procrastinator, managed to die at the particular moment she did. It actually makes me grin.

We got back to the hospital and had time to spend with Christy's body. I'm of the firm opinion that when you're gone, your body is just what's left behind. But Christy had visitors after death and it was good for them all. The rest of the day was taken up with what happens after death to survivors. The funeral mass will be at St Mary's on Thursday morning. I hope the burial will be in OKC at Ressurection Cemetary around 11:00 AM.

Just for those of you who want to know about these things: no emabalming, cremation, no frills box, obits in the paper… expect it to cast $3000-$5000. And that's if you own your plot, which mom and Christy do. Another thing I learned today is that if you are cremated, more than one person can occupy a plot in many cemetaries. Who knew?

We went back to the bank for more papers, told them Christy died, and her accounts were promptly frozen. Luckily that was fine with us. But it was a heartwarming experience and that I did not expect. The woman we spoke to had worked with Christy, remembered her, liker her a lot, and cried at the news. Seriously – would that happen at your bank?

So there you go. Christy is not in pain. She died too young but she loved life. I'll miss her, but I will remember her fondly. I don't feel strong, or particularly special. This is what families should be like and should do. I'm average – not massively compassionate or special. I think we all are or can be exactly this way. It's what you do for family. And mine is here for dinner (which thankfully Steve is cooking) so I will sign off.


Quick update…

Thank you all so much for your kind words and prayers. I have to say that Christy is proving me wrong, yet again. Little sisters do that so often, don't they? Over the years I'd think I'd know exactly what she would do or say and then she'd do just the opposite. So, she did not die yesterday. She's still here – and even the nurses seem a bit surprised about that. I think she is aware of a bit of what's going on around her. The pain is mostly under control. We are, each of us, doing what we can to make the end of her life go well.

Since it is my nature to share what I learn from my experiences, in no particular order I'll tell you some of what I've learned:

  • Everyone deals with death differently. People can say or do things that might make you bit crazy. It's a good idea to assume that everyone means well and not to take offense. I like to control my environment but in this case I'm finding that it's a lot better for all concerned to let people do what they want or feel the need to do.
  • Be polite, especially to care givers. They have a job to do and by and large they are good at their job. We have been very lucky in that regard. How you treat the nurses and doctors has an impact on how they view the person in the bed.
  • It's not a bad idea to tell the nurses and doctors about the life of the person they are treating. Christy can't share the fact that she worked in health care and in hospitals all of her adult life. Knowing some of the details makes the person in the bed a 'person' in addition to being a patient.
  • Take care of your legal matters now. Christy put off getting her Texas will done. She was going to do it when her wound healed in a week or so. Too late for that now and Mom and I are going to have to go see the lawyer – today probably. I've heard that people don't get their wills done because it makes they are afraid of dying. Everybody dies and pretending you aren't going to is not going to save you. If you love your family, deal with your legal stuff. That said, Steve and I need to update our wills (and powers of attorney, and universla HIPPA form).
  • Make sure you have a nice picture for your obituary and if you feel strongly about what you want written, write it yourself.
  • If you know what you want done with your body when you aren't using it any more, be sure that you leave those instructions. Luckily we all know what Christy wants. For myself, just in case I get hit by a car on the way home: no embalming, cardboard box, cremation. Keep it cheap – expensive funeral gear drives me crazy. I would prefer to be scattered but I don't think that's allowed in the Catholic church. I'd be good with being planted on campus under a tree but I'll bet that's not allowed either. By then it won't be my problem. Plant me wherever. Oh – have a party instead of something weepy and serve wine and beer and cake. See, that's not so hard!
  • If you are on 'watch' remember that it is really important to sleep. Share the watches so that you aren't so sleep-deprived that you can't think because you are going to have to think and make decisions.

That's all for now. I'll let you all know what happens. Thanks again for you good wishes.


Life and death…

September 11 has become a day of reflection for so many people. The date has meaning in the larger world but it has become meaningful to my family in a different way. On September 11, 2008, Christy's kidneys were removed. Today, September 11, 2011 is probably going to be the day she dies.


Chirsty had been doing so very well. Her infection was healing, she was happy and making new friends. I really thought she was headed for some good times. But on Thursday she developed a gastric bleed. By the end of the day it was bad enough that they moved her back to the ICU at the hospital. She decided that she'd had enough. All treatment stopped and the pain alleviation began.

That sounds so civiliized, doesn't it? In many ways it has been. The physicians and nurses have been better than I could hope for for myself. But the fact is that when you are strong-willed, even when you want to die it's not that easy. We did have time to visit, and joke some (she has always had a good sense of humor) before the drugs took over. She, and we, have had company. She'd be happy if she could be to realize how many people will remember her with love.

The photos above and below were taken right around the time her kidneys were removed.


At the time we took these she wasn't keen on the idea because the disease had already aged her some. But looking at them now she was the picture of health then. I mention this especially for those of you who avoid pictures. Please lighten up and let people take your picture. It's not for you, it's for them. Pictures are yet another bit of yourself that you leave behind. It helps people remember you. Here are two of my favorites of my sister and me:



Christy and I have had a complicated relationship over the years but, whether we were happy with each other or not, we have always been protective of each other. I'm glad I'm here to help her now. I'm glad the newer good memories will take precedence over the rougher times in the past.