Monday, July 27, 2009

Re-Sale Shops

In most towns of any size there is at least one re-sale shop. The idea behind it is to bring items (primarily clothing and accessories) that are of nice quality and barely used that you can't use any more. The shop sells the item for an amount way less than you originally paid. They split the money, usually they get 55-60%, you get 40-45%. It seems like a simple and wonderful concept.

Last week I discovered the reality. My mom was a shop-a-holic. I don't know any other way to describe it. My dad wants us to clear out these things, my sisters and I have spent several days just sorting clothes. There were a few items each of us could use, but size-wise most of it wouldn't fit anyone we knew. We took a huge load of clothing to Goodwill. Goodwill and Salvation Army stores sell used items. The money goes to charity--unlike a re-sale shop. They are also less picky about what they accept.

There was another huge pile of clothing that still had tags on them. We couldn't find receipts to return them. They were decent quality, pants that cost $45.-$60., blouses in the same price range, shoes $80.-$150.. My mom always liked to buy nice things. None of us can afford those prices except on rare occasions. As I mentioned, none of us could wear the clothes either.

So we thought we would try to make a little money at a re-sale shop. I read their websites and researched as much as I could. I learned that you bring the clothes in on hangers, they hang them all up in a back room. If they choose to 'keep' an item, they will transfer it to one of their hangers. They only take clothes for upcoming seasons. Although it is the end of July, the websites said they were now only taking Fall clothes.

We were blissfully unaware of this when we took all the clothes OFF of the hangers and piled them on the bed. So I went over and separated clothes into seasons, put hangers on all of the "Fall" clothes (trying to guess if a sweater is Fall or Winter). I loaded about 150 items (told you she had a lot) and drove the re-sale shop. Only to be told that they 'updated their website too soon' and they weren't taking Fall clothes yet. However, the owner offered to look them over to let me know what they accepted. My dad had come with me, so we hauled all the items into the shop. Only to be told that these were 'old lady' type clothes and they didn't want them. I was shocked. The only people who have money and love to hunt for bargains these days are older women. Looking around the shop I could see a lot of children's clothes, but other items didn't look much different from what we had brought in. Okay, whatever.

Called another shop from there that was located twenty minutes away. They were not taking Fall clothes for two weeks. They would only 'accept' thirty items at a time. In talking to people, we learned that third shop (about thirty minutes away) has a bad reputation for not paying people the money when items are sold.

My dad was fed up. "We're just taking it all to Goodwill" he said. "I just want this stuff gone." I understand that he is very upset, he had no idea how much my mom had spent and that there were all these things packed away in closets. So we went back to his house, took all of the hangers off again. Added all the other clothes to the back of his van. Drove it to Goodwill. At least the money would go to charity. Thousands of dollars worth of clothes. No inheritance for us!

As far as re-sale shops, I'm not sure they are worth the trouble.

Fighting Bureaucracy Is A Losing Battle

Somehow a week has gone by. I spent last week fighting bureaucracy. I started receiving unemployment, and then it suddenly stopped after a few weeks. They sent a letter requesting information, asked it to be faxed to a certain number. I did all that they asked. I can't seem to find a human being to talk to about this. Number one, why did they stop it suddenly, even before the information was received? Number two, I had to wait three weeks for them to investigate my claim, they approved it--then suddenly stopped it. Can they do that? Number three, why do I have to talk to recordings? Why do my e-mails go unanswered? Why, after waiting on the phone for fifteen minutes after punching in countless numbers at the request of various recordings--am I always disconnected before I can talk to a real person?

Sometimes I wish we had a bribery culture in this country. At least then I would know what was expected. I am very very frustrated. And since I am actually looking for a job, having to spend all this time trying to find out what happened takes up too much time. Perhaps that is what they are hoping, and wish that I would just give up.

Sigh, I can't afford to give up. I hate that I'm in this position.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Did the U. S. Peak When We Landed On the Moon?

I have a twenty-two year old nephew that likes to tease the older generation by pretending to believe that the moon landing was a hoax. I know that there are people out there who do believe that. I'm starting to wonder if it is believable to some people because we have never accomplished anything as a nation even remotely similar since that day in 1969.

That summer I was getting ready to begin High School. My best friend and I would pedal our bicycles to the high school and peek in the windows, trying to imagine our lives in that setting. The country was still reeling from the year before. In 1968 we suffered two assassinations of well-loved leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.. That's when the anti-war protests exploded, we watched the horrors of police brutality against other Americans at the Chicago Democratic Convention.

July 20, 1969 was the bright spot of that era. Rising to John F. Kennedy's challenge in his Inaugural address, the United States in less than a decade was able to have a man walk on the moon. In that otherwise low-tech age, we sat glued to our television while the "Eagle" lunar module left Apollo 11. We stared intently at the fuzzy grainy scene, listening to the disembodied voices of the Astronauts. We held our breath as Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder and made the first steps on the moon. When he made his famous quote "One small step for man, one giant step for mankind." we could barely understand the words. Only when they were repeated later did we understand their significance. It was an incredible moment of triumph.

There are, and were those that argue that NASA and the exploration of space are a waste of money. I have always believed the discovery of new places and things, exploring new frontiers are always inspiring to the rest of the world. I think that this moment inspired a few generations to create technology and expand our scientific knowledge in ways that may not have happened otherwise.

Yet, since then, it has been an uninspiring world. Sure we had the Space Shuttle, and the various cameras showing us the surface of other planets-- but it was anti-climactic compared to the developments from 1961-1969. Most other developments and inventions in our world since then have either been for private profit, or for military might.

Twenty years after that, the Berlin Wall came down. Twenty years after that---we are a country heavily in debt, bogged down by two unwinnable wars. The economic situation of most citizens is on a downward spiral. Our educational system and the healthcare available to average citizens is below that of any other first world country.

Did we peak that day in 1969? I am starting to believe that we did.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Power to the People of Iran

By the time John Lennon wrote his song in 1971 called "Power to the People", many felt that it was ten years too late. Back in the 1960's, people around the world marched in the streets to protest the Viet Nam War. In the United States there were many war protests as well as marches in the South to fight for Civil Rights. Things were winding down by 1971. In the U. S., the Kent State shootings (where the U. S. National Guard fired on and killed peacefully protesting American students) had occurred in 1970. It was one of the final nails on the coffin of the old guard. Peace and change were coming. The war finally ended. True enforcement of laws protecting blacks and their rights began to occur. The power of the people eventually created change.

Perhaps we all should have realized that the song would resonate for generations. Lennon's songs "Imagine", "Give Peace A Chance" and "Power to the People" clearly still have meaning today.

As I watch the people on the streets of Tehran today. I just think of the song...

Say you want a revolution
We better get on right away
Well you get on your feet
And out on the street

Singing power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on

After a period of quiet, they roared back today. They have shown that it is not over. People are still pouring over Rafsanjani's speech at Friday prayers. Looking for nuances and hidden meanings. Looking for encouragement and support. From what I understand, it seems like he's offering a hand to the opposition and chastising the current government leaders and their policies.

In any case, it is the people who are truly speaking. Who are chanting and marching and putting themselves out there in the way of the batons. They are the ones being knived, shot, and tear-gassed while shouting Allah o Akbar.

I could be wrong, but if the ISLAMIC Republic has to beat people at Friday prayers, it would seem that they really have already lost their battle. It may be a long time before they surrender to the inevitable. But the people want honest leaders, not dictators and men who pretend to speak for Allah.

A few days ago was the anniversary of the 'storming of the Bastille' in France. The catalyst that really sparked the French Revolution. I hope the brave crowds on the streets of Tehran look to one another and see their power. And that if they unite, and stay united, there will be change.

Pretend Possible Income

means no help for me.

As far as I know there is no one in my immediate circle of family and friends that has ever applied for any government assistance.

Developments in my life over the past year included devastating illness and multiple hospital stays. (Let's not even go into the mountain of medical bills I have, even though I was covered by one of the best insurance companies at that time.)

After relocating here I was able to find a job in a local school. School ended for the year in June. I received a nice letter thanking me for working there, and saying that I would 'probably' have a job when school resumed in late August. But that they weren't guaranteeing anything.

I have been applying for part-time work and/or summer work for months. Several times I thought I had a job, but things fell through. "The owner has decided to do the work instead because the economy is so bad." and other such reasons were given.

Finally I decided to apply for unemployment. Most people said I probably wouldn't qualify. I decided that it didn't hurt to try.

I am fortunate that my sister has opened her home to me and my dog. She cannot afford to buy my food and medications--or those for my dog. I also have an old car that needs work, and must buy gas and insurance for it. My meager savings was running dry. I applied.

I received notification that it would take three weeks to hear their decision. That they automatically did not pay benefits for the first two weeks of application. And that if I did receive benefits it would be between $50 and $187 a week. Not much, but something to keep me going.

While telling friends and family about this, several suggested that I apply for food stamps. (Food Stamps is a name for a money card issued by the state government. Every State has a different name for their card. It was embarrassing to even think of it. Yet, with no assurance of receiving unemployment and no income--it wasn't fair to my sister to ask her to feed us too. So I swallowed my pride and applied.

My interview was surreal. Here is basically what happened:
Bureaucrat: What is your income?
Me: I don't have any income right now.
Bureaucrat: Everyone has some income.
Me: No, I do not have an income.
Bureaucrat: Have you applied for Unemployment?
Me: Yes, they said it would be three weeks before they could tell me if I qualified to receive any money.
Bureaucrat: Did they tell you how much you would receive if you qualify?
Me: Yes, somewhere between $50 and $187. a week.
Bureaucrat: Okay, so your income is $187. a week.
Me: No, (trying not to hyperventilate or scream). I have NO income. In three weeks I might have an income. It might be $50. a week, it might be $187. a week. It might be nothing. But in the meantime, I have no income.
Bureaucrat: According to our rules you have to write down the maximum that you MIGHT receive.
Me: Okay, but how does that apply to my life today? I have no income today.
Bureaucrat: I am sorry those are the rules and that is how we must do this.
Me: Okay, so let's pretend I have an income of $187. a week. Now what?
Bureaucrat: What is your monthly rent and utility bill?
Me: I do not have one. I live with my sister and she is kind enough not to charge me for living there.
Bureaucrat: I am sorry, your claim is denied then. I cannot give you food stamps because your income is higher than your rent and utility bills.
Me: (Trying not to reach across the desk and strangle this fool). But I do not have any income. The soonest I might have an income--even if I find a job today--would be two weeks. Or three weeks IF they decide that I qualify for unemployment.
Bureaucrat: I'm sorry, but those are the rules. You can appeal this decision. She then explains I would have to drive to a location about one hour away and present my claim. I am not sure if my car would make the trip without breaking down. I have two tires that I desperately need to replace.
Bureaucrat: I'm sorry but I have other appointments now. Have a nice day.
Me: I am silently leaving and am too angry and upset to speak.

I do not understand the logic of any of this, except to deny benefits to as many people as possible. All the years of taxes I have paid, yet the first time I ask for help I am caught in this bizarre web of 'no help' because I have a pretend possible income.

I guess maybe I should have applied for Food Stamps before unemployment. Or lied. I don't know. It is a bureaucratic system completely foreign to me.

I am an emotional person, as I was leaving I burst into tears. A man had been waiting nearby and heard the whole conversation. "It's happening everywhere," he said. People like you that never have had to use these kind of programs. People that don't know how to make the system work for them."

I agreed with him, I had no idea who he was and I was too upset to care. I left and drove away in my old car. I used to be a Yuppie. I walked away from the pursuit of fine things and money over fifteen years ago and dedicated myself to work in industries that don't pay well, but help people. In the end---this is where it got me.

It Takes My Breath Away

I remember carefully watching the hearings when Alito was being confirmed for the U. S. Supreme Court. With so much at stake it seemed so important. When I later learned that before T.V. coverage of these things they never even held hearings, I realized what a ridiculous waste of time it was. These politicians prancing and pandering and pretending to 'grill' the future Justice. It was all nonsense and not worth my time.

I've never had any doubt that Sotomayor will be confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice. I'm delighted that she is a wise Latina woman who came from working class roots. Although many conservatives have yelped and carried on because she was able to get into Princeton through Affirmative Action (opening slots specifically for minorities and underprivileged)I ignored them. After all, she still had to pass the classes and she did that and more. She also has the most judicial experience of any of the Justices currently on the court.

I am a big fan of Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. Both have shows on MSNBC. This network is almost the 'anti' Fox News. Instead of making up news, or turning facts upside down to suit their agenda, most of what appears on MSNBC has credibility.

One person that appears on many of their shows is Pat Buchanan. Pat has been around forever. He worked for Nixon and Reagan. He's a religious conservative. He even ran for President in 2000. Once in a while Pat tries to sound balanced and reasonable. I assume that is why MSNBC lets him on the air.

But his true colors were there for everyone to see last night. Spouting his 'affirmative action is discrimination against white men' rhetoric he tried to paint Sotomayer as an intellectual lightweight, not worthy of the Supreme Court. That was ridiculous enough. Then he took my breath away...

He started claiming that only 'white men built this country, white men stormed the beaches of Normandy, white men wrote the Declaration of Independence, white men fought in the Civil War' was beyond ridiculous. I don't know if Jefferson and those guys had any help on the Declaration of Independence. But in all other cases cited and thousands of other examples there were women, blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians there at the sides of those 'white men'.

That wasn't bad enough. Then he actually said that different people have different talents. That just as our Olympic track team might be all blacks, there is nothing wrong with the Supreme Court being all white. He gave other examples too but I was too stunned to remember them all.

This kind of thinking started to disappear from public discourse in the 1960's. The idea that a grown man, a man who claims to be more intelligent than Sotomayor, would actually proclaim it on an internationally broadcast show is just incredible. It is hard to believe that the past fifty years have not impacted his thinking one bit.

It was disgusting. Rachel Maddow did a great job of showing him for what he truly is inside. I see his ugliness as a cancer, and he and others that still think like him need to be cut out from access to any serious media from this day forward.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Buchanan and people like them represent the ugliest of Ugly Americans.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Trying Not To Be Paranoid

After living four-hundred miles away from here for fifteen years, I am still adjusting to this urban atmosphere. After so many years in a friendly, rural area much farther north with cool lake breezes, I am trying to re-adjust to the hot and humid weather here each day.

Today I stopped by the local (air conditioned) library for some reading material. I selected a variety of books, then sat down with them at a table to decide which ones I wanted to take home and read.

A woman sat down across from me with several books, although there were lots of empty tables surrounding us. She was probably ten years younger than me. "Do you mind if I sit here?" she asked. It seemed only polite for me to say "Of course not." although I still couldn't understand why my table was so appealing.

I began to look through my books, separating fiction and non-fiction, I like to read both and wanted to be sure to check out some of each.

"Excuse me," the woman said. "I just have to show you the pictures of my friends beautiful table. She is so talented, look how she folded each napkin." She passes me a digital camera. I dutifully look at the screen. It was a nice setting, and I started to think maybe she is trying to drum up business for her friend as a Party Planner or something. I wasn't dressed up or wearing makeup, and this area is certainly not a wealthy one. I couldn't help but think she needed to find a better location if that was her plan.

"Very nice," I said handing her back the camera. "She seems quite talented."
A few moments later she interrupted again. "I'm sorry," she said. I just had to show you her beautiful flowers too. Look at these lovely blossoms decorating her deck."

Trying to remain polite, I took the camera again. "Very lovely," I said. "It looks like she has a green thumb". Suddenly this woman is showing me picture after picture of these flowers around her friends apartment, then her apartment. Each time she clicked to a new picture the camera beeped. Another lady a few tables away began to give us dirty looks. I was frustrated too. I just wanted to pick out some books and leave. My purse was on the floor firmly under my feet, so I didn't think she was trying to distract me that way. I couldn't think of a nice way to ask her to leave me alone, I just kept picking up books and trying to look at them every chance I had.

Finally she said "Oh, I've bothered you enough, I am sorry." and I just smiled and kept looking at the book, already planning my getaway. As I stood up and began gathering my selected pile, she interrupted again.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I just wanted to show you one more picture of how I decorated my apartment. You can see it much better on this screen." Now, instead of a camera, she hands me a Blackberry. It is a perfectly nice picture of a perfectly nice apartment. Nothing extremely unusual about it at all. "Oh, very nice," I said. "Thanks for showing me. I have to go now." I gathered my books and left.

On the way home I continued to puzzle over the whole situation. Then a paranoid thought hit me--what if the camera and Blackberry were stolen and she wanted my fingerprints on them? It sounds absurd, yet nothing about the encounter made any sense. Maybe I've just been away too long.

What Do We Pay Them For?

Over and over again we hear stories of bills passed by Congress that the Representative--the person paid to represent their people---never read. Every time I turn around politicians and their cronies are bashing each other in the media, nitpicking each other's decisions, twisting the truth and generally wasting oxygen. I don't expect much from either party, but I did and do expect more from the Democrats currently in power.

I realize Obama has only been in office six months. I am trying not to be too disappointed, trying to give him time. I certainly trust him more than I have any politician in a long time. Yet.............innocent people still languish in prison as suspected 'terrorists'. Yet some idiot conservative pundit gets on t.v. and says that Osama Bin Laden needs to bomb the U. S. to 'wake up' the American people. Ah...why isn't this guy in jail?

At first I was heartened to read that the current Attorney General was seriously considering some prosecutions for those involved in torture. Now his office is backtracking, saying it was just certain lower level people they are going to charge.

Why don't thing 'big shots' ever get punished? Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their minions.........the list of their War Crimes and treasonous acts are huge yet they walk around free.

I realize that with two wars, and disastrous economy and the battle on healthcare Obama has a lot on his plate. But he can find another plate and hire/appoint the people to give us, and the rest of the world closure on this horrible time. To prove that such behavior----lying about WMD, outing CIA agent Valerie Plame, giving no-bid contracts to their cronies, sending soldiers into war without proper equipment, starting a war in Iraq to begin with, torture, renditions, the Patriot Act, the attempts to destroy the Constitution they swore to uphold, the persecutions of people who opposed them..............are not acceptable. That they are not a model for future generations.

Many in that Administration (George W. Bush) had served under Nixon during Watergate, under Reagan with the Iran-Contra and other scandals that now seem forgotten...they learned from each and only became worse and harder to fight each time around. The only way to stop them is to have consequences.

Instead, we pay people to lead and they don't. We pay people to make prudent decisions and they won't. They are just more nonsense clogging up the media every day. Their contributions sometimes seem as senseless as Paris Hilton's career.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Finding Geeky Nerds

Last night I went out for dinner with two of my cousins and their daughter. I have temporarily relocated to my hometown area--although I hope it won't be for very long. One of the delights of the experience has been re-connecting with some of my cousins that I had been close to growing up.

I realize the definition of 'geek' and 'nerd' kind of varies, especially among generations. In my eyes, I am one and proud of it. I love to spend hours on the internet--reading and surfing my way around the world. I love to spend hours talking about little details, playing trivia games and having debates about ideas. Back home (my real home) my friends are just like that. One New Year's Eve we spent the whole night discussing 'terminal velocity'. The concept, not the movie. It's my idea of fun.

These cousins are like that too. We love many of the same t.v. shows, read the same books and articles. Our conversation jumped from Sarah Palin's crazy resignation speech, to the recent article about Goldman Sachs in Rolling Stone. We were happy that the current Attorney General is now considering prosecuting some of the previous administration for their involvement in torture. We hope that the prosecutions will expand to include War Crimes, and treason for the outing of C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame.

We are big fans of "The Office" television show, and of the old show "West Wing". On the drive home we debated different ethical situations some of the characters faced and how we thought they should have handled it.

It was fun. It was nice to relax and not think about hospitals and funerals for the first time in ages.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Iranians---An Inspirational Embarassment

The people of Iran have embarrassed me. I am uncomfortable with their bravery. What have I ever done that could begin to be as inspiring?

I remember kind of following their upcoming election, and the “Green Revolution” and thinking—wouldn’t it be ironic of Iran became more Democratic on its own---than Iraq is after we ripped that country apart to ‘give’ them Democracy?

Once the demonstrations started I was avidly following every moment. Since I was not working I had the time to click between Nico Pitney at Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic, the New York Times Lede, the Daily Beast, BBC, Asia Times……..
I figured out Twitter and tried to decipher things among all the repetitious ‘re-Tweets’. I opened the link to DailyKos multiple times a day to see what members were saying. I found various Iranian sites and blogs—Tehran Bureau, Revolutionary Road and others.

The magnitude of this outpouring took my breath away. In any country, at any time it isn’t easy to get that many people off of their butts and out the door. Defying authority always has a price. We still seem to be shocked when it happens here. There—they are well aware that freedom is not free.

I was impressed beyond words to see them, all ages and all kinds of people walking together—silently. In those early days, before the crackdown began, the images of green, and hope and determination seared in our minds.

Day after day they came. Theories and predictions were as common as internet sites. Some predicted that the vote count would be overthrown and a new election would occur. Others that the “Supreme Leaders” days were over. Like many others, I studied sites and charts explaining in detail how the Iranian Islamic Republic was constructed.

Many comparisons were made to the days of Gandhi, and how his peaceful resistance changed India. Or the American Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King. I agreed that it can be a brilliant strategy, but could see it was one that had a frightening future. Because violence doesn’t disappear in the face of non-violence. Non-violent protests might win in the end. But the horrors of the South in the United States—the rapes, murders, the terrible beatings wasn’t that long ago. The marchers sang ‘we shall overcome’, but a lot of people died before they overcame.

I wasn’t alone when I began comparing the Iranians of today to the Americans of 2000. Our election was stolen---yet we stayed home and let it happen. Why? Are we less brave?

The more I thought about it, the situations were not exactly parallel. Here we spent over a month while ballots were counted and re-counted and lawyers filed motions. And part of our problem was that the election was so close. Americans were split down the middle on so many issues, no one was surprised at the tight election. And the Democrats had a third party candidate splitting their votes (Ralph Nader). With such a tight contest, and so many stories of corrupted ballots and election day cheating we were overwhelmed with information. I remember thinking at the time that it would be months and months before this was resolved. Instead, the Supreme Court made one ruling on one recount situation and everyone caved. I don’t think that people expected Al Gore to concede after that court ruling. In addition, the long gap between election day and the court ruling took a lot of air out of a possible resistance.

In Iran, they announced a winner well before all the votes could have been counted. Moussavi refused to concede. It is a different dynamic.

I wrote this on another site a few weeks ago:
If things had been the same here in 2000---would we have taken to the streets? I don't know. That was a world where we still thought America stood for the Bill of Rights and followed the Geneva Conventions and didn't run around starting wars over false information. (I realize we did bad stuff in South America and the Middle East over the years, but most Americans were unaware of that stuff back then). We are and were more naive than these Iranians who have seen so much in their lives---dishonesty, brutality, false hopes.
We are still young in this world under the Patriot Act that allows people to be arrested for shaky reasons and held without an attorney indefinitely. That has been a way of life in Iran for as long as anyone can remember. We are still naive enough to let an event like 9/11 turn our entire ethos upside down and throw our Bill of Rights out the door. In countries like Iran---3,000 could be a daily total in the Iran-Iraq War.
They have had to fight harder and more recently for the most basic rights. Yes, we have had many brave men and women that died or had their lives ruined in wars or police actions over the past fifty years. But they are the minority of the population. The rest just go about their lives taking freedom for granted. Just look how veterans are actually treated once they return.

The good thing about this is that it has brought a human face to Iran. A country that too many Americans only know as ‘the place that took American hostages for 444 days’ and of course as one of Bush’s ‘axis of evil’. Seeing those hopeful faces marching for freedom, it is hard not to think of them as fellow citizens of the world. People just trying to make their own lives a little better, just like everyone else.

My Mom's Funeral

If the deceased belonged to a church, the funeral service is held there. My mom did not, so the service was held at the Funeral Home.

For funerals in this area there are certain traditions. A hearse bearing the casket leads the procession of cars to the cemetery. The order of the cars begins with immediate family, and then just whoever comes next parks in the line. Generally people in the immediate family fill up each car. Rather than have one or two people per vehicle, there will be four--or however many properly fit with seatbelts.

I already knew that my niece's fiance would be driving my brother-in-laws van, and that was 'my' vehicle for travel. I met them at my dad's (have to remember to say that now instead of mom and dad's). We arrived at the funeral home and parked the car--we were third in line. Employees were out front, checking the relationship to the deceased as each person arrived and lining them up. Each car received a magnetic yellow sign (like a taxi sign) on top saying "Funeral".

We went inside. There are never as many people at the funeral as there are at the visitation. Partly because most people are at work and can't or don't want to take time off. Unless they are close to the deceased no one thinks anything is wrong with their not coming.

There were more people than I expected. I was pleasantly surprised at how many were able to attend, I know that gave my dad comfort. Everyone visited the casket again. Except me. I always hate that part at any funeral, and I'm sorry this just isn't the exception. I've become very good at pretending to visit the casket and hurrying away. Someone told me it's a fear of death. I don't think so at all. I just don't like hanging around embalmed bodies and pretending it is anything but an empty vessel.

After a few minutes the Pastor came in and began the service. He said a few prayers, then my brother-in-law delivered the eulogy. He's been around the family for over thirty-five years, and did a really nice job in capturing my mom's life. My niece's fiance then read a poem he had been inspired to write just after my mom died.

The Pastor came back and read from the Bible and said a few more prayers. Then it was time to say goodbye. Traditionally, starting from the back row each person goes up to the casket one last time. Most just pause briefly and move on. The immediate family is in the front row, so they go by last. When it was our turn we went up. A few of my sisters were sobbing loudly and all emotional. Not really my style. But everyone had tears.

Then we waited in the entry area while they brought out the casket and loaded it into the hearse. My nephews and a few of the brothers-in-law were pall bearers. These days it is more an honorary designation. They don't actually carry the casket very far, most of the time it is on a wheeled cart.

I was surprised that the funeral processional customs in this area still existed. Basically, all of the cars with the 'funeral' sign are led by a police officer and the hearse in a procession to the cemetary. All the cars keep their lights on, and if a stoplight turns red during the procession they still continue to pass through--to keep the procession together.

As I've mentioned I've been away for many years. It has grown in population so much that I couldn't imagine they still would do that. Yet, they did.

And in this case, for quite a long trip. My parents had recently moved about twenty miles east of where we grew up. They had purchased their grave plots in that area. Since most of the family now lives in the same town that they had moved to, it made sense to have the funeral home and service there. Yet for the burial it was a bit of a drive.

So the whole procession of about twenty cars made the long drive to the cemetary. The Pastor said a few more prayers, and offered for anyone to take a flower from the arrangements as remembrance. Then (as is tradition) he invited everyone to join the family in a meal to celebrate her life. After some emotional goodbyes at the casket we all piled back into the cars. This time there is no procession. But the dinner was back in their new home town.

We gathered for a very nice meal, and there was lots of visiting and promises to see each other more among cousins and old friends. Too often, however, we tend to gather for weddings and funerals---and are too caught up in our lives the rest of the time.

After the dinner we went back to my dad's. We had asked the funeral home to deliver the leftover flowers to the Hospice to brighten the rooms. However there were quite a few plants. My sister and her husband went to the funeral home and brought those to my dads.

People purposely choose to send plants so family members can have remembrance of the deceased through the plant. The problem is, not all of us are very good in caring for plants. And it was just tiring having to make a decision. Finally we divided them up, the majority going to the two sisters who have 'green thumbs'--meaning they are good with plants and flowers.

We headed back home, exhausted after a long week. And pretty numb after all the emotion.

Rest in peace mom.

Visiting at the Funeral Home

My mom's obituary notice asked visitors to come between four p.m. and eight p.m. on Thursday. We arrived at 3 p.m. to have some time ourselves and a short prayer service. It was the 'immediate family', which can be defined slightly differently in many cases.
Sibling #1 (let's call her Rose), her husband, two sons (one on emergency family leave from the U. S. Navy), her daughter and fiance.
Sibling #2 (let's call her Rie), her husband and son. Daughter lives far away and is unable to attend.
Sibling #3 (let's call her Callie) and spouse. Both her daughter and son live too far away and are unable to attend. (Flights are expensive, taking time off work these days can be dangerous to the future of your job.)
Sibling #4 (let's call him Joe), his spouse and two sons.
My cousin (let's call her Dina) and her sons.
My cousin (let's call her Millie) and her daughter.

My dad went in first and closed the door. We kind of wondered if he would want to be alone with mom in the casket for a while. He opened the doors and you can tell he had been crying. He has been very stoic through all of this. Then we all went in, went up to the casket. A person never looks the same in death. I hate going up to the casket. As my dad said, they had smoothed out her wrinkles. All of us were a little upset right away because it was too much makeup. The employees there were very helpful, immediately someone came to fix that. They offered us the option of leaving the room while they did. We just kind of stepped to the other end instead. There were all the flowers and plants that had arrived. We walked around reading the cards. Then the Pastor came in and held a short prayer service.

My cousin suggested we grab a few bites to eat before people started coming in. That was a good suggestion. Not everyone followed it, but I am glad that I had. I had a long drive getting there. I had eaten half my plate when a nephew came down saying that I was needed upstairs. Already there were about twenty guests, and a few were cousins that I had not seen in years and they were asking for me. The next four hours are a complete blur. I didn't expect so many people. My mom was not very social. As I mentioned, they had moved from their long-time neighborhood just a few years ago. Neighbors from both old and new neighborhoods came and went. Co-workers of my siblings, some of my old co-workers, co-workers of my dad's before he retired. Members of churches that all my siblings belong to. Members of our scattered family. Aunts, uncles, cousins and more cousins. Many had been at the Open House for Rose's son just over a week before.

The slideshow my sister Rose had created was very popular. People stood waiting for pictures of people and events that they remembered. Combing faces in crowds at weddings 'look, there's my sister, or look how young I looked' comments made.

It was exhausting having to go through the whole story over and over again. How quickly it all happened. People picking apart every move she made the last time they saw her, as if there was a need to have some sign that this was going to happen. I did miss one of the best lines of the night.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my dad still goes to the same Catholic church that he has attended for like sixty years. The long time Priest there has retired but is still alive. As the priest was being introduced to the Evangelical Pastor of my sister Rie's church, Father M. says to him "didn't you used to be a Catholic?" Every time I think of it I laugh. Asking someone their religious affiliation is not customary when you are introduced to them. Even if you are both in the same 'business'. I really wish the Pastor would have said, 'no, sorry, I was a Jew'. Okay I have an odd sense of humor. Not that I am insulting those who are Jewish. It was an odd question for one 'Christian' to ask of another. So that's my idea of humor.

When the evening finally ended and the last hangers on had headed out the door we were all just exhausted. Leftover food had been carried out and distributed among cars. Everyone headed home---or to wherever they were staying. It was after 9 p.m., and we had to be back at the Funeral Home at 9 a.m. in the morning.

Religion and My Mom's Funeral

The one arrangement I haven't touched upon is the religious aspect. Our family (as in so many) runs the gamut of atheist/agnostic to profoundly religious.

Some of my readers may be from other parts of the world. I realize that there are variations in each major religion, with traditions and nuances that are difficult for outsiders to understand. I am not sure if any of the major religions have as many variances as those in Christianity. And among Christians themselves, those that call themselves "Protestant" seem to have a new sect or church for every possible variation of belief. I'm no expert, and this isn't a theological treatise. I'm not really trying to explain the differences here. Just mentioning how many there are among us.

Families grow up with religious labels, whether they regularly attend church or not. My mom grew up in a Protestant family, under the label of "Methodist". They rarely attended church. On her own she began attending a nearby Roman Catholic church. She converted on her own and began participating in the church through her teen years. She met my birth father at a dance there when she was seventeen. (My birth father died when I was six.)

My mother's mother (my grandmother) was respectful of her choice. Her own sister (my great-aunt) had married a Catholic and there had been some anger in the family about it. It was good that my grandmother was open-minded. Her oldest daughter married a Catholic and converted. A few years later, my mother married a Catholic too. This was an era of intolerance. It was still considered a terrible wrong for a Catholic and a Protestant to marry. Many Protestants looked down on Catholics with disdain. My grandmother's other sister had remained a staunch Methodist through her life. To her dying day this great aunt of mine would refer to us Catholic members of the family in derogatory terms.

When John F. Kennedy was running for President of the United States he had to launch a campaign to prove that although he was a Catholic, he wouldn't be a 'puppet' of the Pope if he were President. Even in the middle 1960's, my father's younger brother married a Protestant. He chose to convert to her church. It took years for uproar that rocked the family to die down. A large number of the older generation went to the site of the wedding, but stood outside the church. They were 'at the wedding, but not at the wedding'. (I've never understood the logic there). My mother, to her great credit, was a staunch defender of the young couple. Legend has it (I was too young to comprehend) that she gave quite a speech to those closed minded people as they stood outside the church.

When my birth father died suddenly, leaving my mom with four small children, she lost her faith. When she met my step-father (I call him dad) a few years later, she agreed to start going to church again. They were married in his Catholic church.

As our family grew older there were lots of splits. I have three sisters and a brother. One is Lutheran, one is Methodist, two are Evangelical Christians. I slip in and out of a Pagan/Catholic/Buddhist type belief of my own creation. I'm not a regular churchgoer. Every Sunday, dad still attends the same Catholic church he was married in. My mom quit going to church on a regular basis a few years after they married. The variations in our immediate family are the same in the rest of our family. Very few (I actually can't think of any off-hand) families of my aunts/uncles/cousins are all members of the same religious denomination.

My mom would occasionally attend one of her children's churches--primarily for some event. When she was in the hospital each of my siblings brought in their own minister to pray over my mom. They wanted her to have a religious service, but which religion? Fortunately, my mom had mentioned that she liked my brother's Lutheran pastor. Based on that, we decided that would suit her wishes. He agreed to help, and did a very nice job.

Funeral Home Customs

I know that customs vary somewhat in the United States. In this area, most of the actual mourning and visiting takes place at funeral homes. People in this area rarely bring the deceased back to their homes. They are transferred to a selected Funeral Home after they die.

As I mentioned previously, we had begun the selection process when we learned my mother only had a few days to live. We were fortunate to find a wonderful operation. We had all been to funerals there, but had not made it our first 'choice' because it is hard to find parking. Well, as we learned after interviewing the place that had lots of parking--there are more important things.

Years ago when someone died there were usually several evenings of 'visitation'. A chance for friends, family, and neighbors to visit, offer condolences, and say goodbye. Most people have narrowed that down to one night of visitation these days. A notice is published in the papers the day before. Family members try to call everyone possible and ask them to pass on the news. Most of the time everyone who wants to know or visit is informed. Sometimes they are not, but the multi-night visitations are too hard on the immediate family.

I remember when my ex-father-in-law died. It was just as a long holiday weekend had begun. So the first night of visitation was four nights after he had died. Followed by three nights of visitation. He was buried eight days after he died and that was way too long for anyone to wait for that bit of closure.

Most people still have a 'showing'. That means that the body is placed in an open casket. Usually the bottom half of the casket is closed, you see the person from the waist up. On top of the bottom half of the casket are usually lots of flowers, often called a flower 'blanket'. There is usually a smaller flower arrangement placed on the edge of the inside lid, near the person's head. On each side of the casket is a taller, large arrangement of flowers. These are all purchased by the family. Each arrangement usually has a banner describing different 'roles' the person had. For example, my mom's flower blanket said 'Beloved Mother'. The smaller arrangement "Loving Grandmother", the two larger at each end of the casket said "Loving Wife".

Traditionally family, friends, employers might send plants or flowers. These are placed near the casket on each side, and around the visitation room. This is a strong tradition, and many people told me it was too hard not to send flowers instead of making a donation (see below). My mom received some beautiful flowers and plants.

We followed the custom of many by indicating in the obituary/death notice that 'the family asks that in place of flowers that you make a donation to ____ in the deceased person's honor'. The blank usually names a selected charity or two that reflect the interests of the deceased. In our case we asked for donations to either the American Heart Association or the Hospice where my mom spent her final days. The Funeral Home has a desk area with envelopes where people can write which charity they wish to benefit, and then they place their donation inside. They are asked to include their name so we might write a note of thanks. Others might choose to do that on their own. If my mom had been a practicing Catholic when she died, visitors would also have had envelopes where they could have placed an 'offering request' for Masses (prayer services) to be said in my mom's honor. There were many envelopes of donations for my mom, but we haven't had the energy to go through them yet.

Although it is a good idea to tell your loved ones what kind of funeral you want, many people find that hard. Customs and traditions vary here, and much is left to individual choice. For example, we knew my mom would like to be buried in a nice dress. She wore very little jewelry or makeup in her life and so we selected a necklace and very little makeup. Since the feet are not visible and she liked to wear slippers, my dad asked that she have those on her feet.

When a death happens it gets other people talking about what they would like. One cousin wanted everyone to know that he wants an open casket, and he wants to be dressed in the shirt of his favorite baseball team. The point is, people are usually dressed in a way they were comfortable in life, or in a way that they indicated to others before they died.

Most people have strong feelings about whether their casket should be open (able to view the body) or closed. In cases where people have been in a disfiguring accident, the option is always closed. Otherwise, it's a choice. I have always said that I do not want an open casket or a viewing. I've just always hated the idea of people looking at me when I am dead. I have been to funerals where they have placed a nice photograph of the person on top of the closed casket.

At the funeral home there is a room with the casket at the front, rows of chairs for visitor seating, and some smaller seating areas off to the side. There is a 'lounge' for visitors and family to gather outside of the room where the deceased is lying. These are usually small, with a bit of a kitchen area (refrigerator, microwave, some tables and chairs).

The family arrives about an hour before the guests are invited. For example, in my mom's announcement it says 'visitation 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.'. We arrived at 3 p.m. for some private time, and a short prayer service. The last guest left about 8:30. As you can guess, between traveling time and being there to greet the guests, there is no time to worry about food.

Bringing food to the family is still a strong tradition in this area, and in any area where I have lived. Probably four hours after my mom died one of her neighbors brought over a freshly made cake. Throughout the day others brought cakes, pies, cookies, casseroles, salads, sandwiches so the family wouldn't have to worry about food. Two of my close cousins had offered to prepare food and have it there for us. They worked hard and made a great feast, including my cousin's famous chicken casserole. It's now famous because so many guests that tasted it wanted the recipe and others were still asking her for the recipe the next day.

I was impressed by the neighbors because my parents have only lived in that neighborhood for a little over a year. They had moved from the home we grew up in, about twenty miles west of where they now live. They don't live in a small town or a big city. My parents and much of my family have always been in the sprawling suburbs, about an hour away from Chicago. Although there are names of town after town on the map, it is just one big populated area. In many suburbs, people have a long commute back and forth to work and rarely see their neighbors. I was glad that they had gotten to know a few of theirs, and that the neighbors clearly cared about them. I think that will help my dad in the coming months, just knowing that the people living around him care.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What is Middle Class?

I don't think there are too many people that really believe that the United States has a classless society. I have been told by European friends who moved here that it is more a matter of the 'ease' that one can move up through the 'classes' here and still be accepted. I would agree with that assessment.

Of course there is always 'old money' that looks down on 'new money' and various rungs on the 'ladder' of every class. Much of the 'old money' names from the nineteenth and early twentieth century came from fortunes built by semi-legal means, or by severely oppressing their workers. The creation of an income tax, and the rise of labor unions limited the ability of future generations to rise so rapidly to wealth. But nothing has really changed. John F. Kennedy's dad was a 'bootlegger', illegally selling alcohol during Prohibition. (A period when it was illegal to sell alcohol in the U. S.). Fortunes based on corporate greed on Wall Street and elsewhere over the past thirty years are just a new version of the robber barons of the previous times.

But that is the difference. No matter who you are or how you got your money, it seems to be 'washed clean' after a generation or so. No matter what anyone pretends, money is truly what most people worship here. And if you have money, the rest is just not as important most of the time.

There's another saying here: "Rags to riches, riches to rags every three generations." I don't know if there has ever been an actual study to prove that, but there does seem to be a cycle of wealth in many families. Although I would say in many cases it is four or five generations. You have the hungry for money, power grabbing ancestor that builds the fortune. Usually within a generation or two the children are pampered enough that they don't try very hard. Soon the money starts to dwindle. Until or unless a new fortune builder appears, the family lapses into a more middle class existence.

The difference between those folks and those in the middle class who have never come from wealth, is the network of connections. Once you have ties to the 'right' schools and people, you can call upon them for many favors. If you never had anyone go to the right schools or have friends and family that did, you are on your own.

In my lifetime, on both sides of my family, we have slid up and down from working class/middle class over time. On my father's side, my ancestry is Polish. His grandparents on both sides emigrated in the early twentieth century. They worked in the steel mills in the Chicago area, during the rise of industry and labor unions. My mother's side is Irish and Welsh. The Irish emigrated in the late nineteenth century, a generation before my Polish relatives. Our Welsh ancestor actually came here as a Quaker, with William Penn in the eighteenth century. They were very wealthy here, and there are still historical sites with his name on them.

I would define middle class as those with at least a few years of college, who work in some professional capacity. In other words, they don't really get their hands dirty. Yet, it is hard to make that statement arbitrarily. Because middle class is not just about the kind of job that you hold, or even your income, it is a state of mind or attitude.

Members are more likely to be a little more open minded, and less likely to automatically stereotype people and situations. They are more likely to think a little about issues, rather than just believe whatever their favorite t.v. personality or church minister tell them. Until recently, the middle class were those that could expect their children to do better than they did. Things are changing here, and that seems less likely now.

I would divide the Middle Class into three sections--lower middle, middle, and upper middle. Until the past year or so, that would describe a majority of Americans that vote and contribute to society in some way. I believe that one reason the politicians and corporations were able to rape the system as they have over the past twenty years or so is because of the deep seated belief among most in the Middle Class that they might rise higher. For example: support tax cuts for the rich, because 'hey, I might be rich some day'. That hope is deeply ingrained in the mindset of anyone born after 1935---to about 1980. This span of years can be disputed, I'm just basing that range on my own experience. The younger generations have very little hope in their future. Which matches how people who were born before 1935 tended to look at things.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Making Funeral Arrangements

When it became clear that my mom was going to die, we were all impressed at how my dad began organizing plans. As with most families, my mom had done the organizing over the years.

He asked me to compose a draft of the obituary.

He asked my sisters to go through her clothes to see what we would have her wear in the coffin. And to go through pictures--both for the person at the funeral home to fix her up to look as natural as possible, and to place them around the room at the funeral home.

He asked my brother to help him go through papers and find the insurance policy, and visit funeral homes, and make burial arrangements.

As I set to work I discovered that the official term 'obituary' is for what is written when famous people die. As I searched--reading obituaries and looking for guidance--I discovered that there are 'death notices' that provide the basic details, and 'funeral service notices' and those are closer to what most of us find in the newspaper each day when regular non-famous people die.

As with most families, we've had marriages and divorces. There are step-grandchildren, family we are still close to from previous marriages and so on. I was trying to figure out the etiquette on how to handle this-and keep everyone happy. I found a good 'rule' to use as a guide. Ask yourself, "If they lived nearby, would I call this person to come to the hospital to say goodbye"? If the answer is yes, put their name in the obituary. This doesn't apply to everyone, but it helped.

I put together a paragraph about my mom, where she had worked and things she loved to do. Listed her parents, and her brother and sister that had died years before. Then listed the living. Five children. Lots of grandchildren, cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws and so on. I figured--it's easier to take a name out than to completely forget it and upset someone. As it was, I did forget some stepchildren. Others were concerned that the obituary would be too expensive, since the newspaper charges by the word. Before anyone could get too upset, a visiting relative said that many funeral homes pay for the newspaper obituary as part of their service. This turned out to be rest easy if you have a lot of relatives to include!

My dad and brother had an unpleasant experience at the first Funeral Home they visited. We had selected it because of it's convenient location and parking. No one had been to a funeral there, we just assumed it was coincidence. I think I know why now. They were extremely expensive, with so many 'little charges' for every little thing. Lifting the coffin lid. Closing the coffin lid. Everything was a charge. And of course we couldn't do any of that ourselves.

My brother-in-law had heard that you can buy a coffin from Costco, and that the funeral home cannot penalize you. We went online and found some of the same ones that had been at the funeral home but about 1/3 less in cost. According to the site, they drop ship the coffin to the funeral home, it usually arrives the next day. And that by Federal Law--the funeral home cannot charge you more because you didn't use their coffin. We wondered...but can they come up with another charge...stocking fee, polishing fee, who knows. We called, but no one from the funeral home called us back.

Another cousin was visiting and said that when her father died they learned that you are supposed to 'negotiate' the fees. So the outrageous price that had been quoted, a price thousands of dollars higher than expected, may not be what we have to pay.

Let me add, I had heard of very expensive funerals but jut assumed that the people were spending un-necessary money of fancier coffins and so on. Not necessarily true. If we hadn't learned about the 'negotiation' thing, we might have done the same. Since the first place never returned our calls to have questions answered, my sister made appointments at a few other funeral homes. Armed with the numbers from the first place, she was able to negotiate and obtain a much better deal. (My brother had to work, and she's a natural negotiator so she stepped in for him.). After my mom died, my cousin and I were dispatched to the first funeral home to recover important personal papers that had been left there. Since they hadn't returned our calls, you would think they would be remorseful. Instead, they were rather rude, and never offered their condolences. This place has been run by one family for a few generations. I have a feeling that the current generation is not 'cut out' for this kind of work. I know that I am glad that we took our business elsewhere.

Meanwhile, my other sisters had been searching for a particular dress of my mothers. My brother had re-married about five years ago and she loved the dress she had worn at the wedding. My mother had a lot of clothes. And she keeps everything. We found bridesmaids dresses that we had worn in weddings thirty years ago. In some cases, for brides that have re-married a few times since. After countless searches (each new person told about the problem just couldn't believe it wasn't in the house somewhere)we gave up. Another cousin guessed that she had taken the dress to the dry cleaners and somehow forgotten about picking it up. Although you would assume the dry cleaners would have called...who knows. It is as good a theory as any.

Slowly we had put together the clothes, jewelry, shoes that she would wear. We had gathered lots of pictures---so many of us just have pictures on computers now. So everyone was making discs--cousins, friends, siblings, and loading them onto my sister's laptop. I've learned that in addition to photos scattered around the room for the visitation, that most families also have a slideshow of photographs. My one sister has worked very hard on this. As different people drop by and watch it in progress, it opens so many memories for everyone.

When my mom died, we had already started all of this in motion. I am glad, because there is definitely a period of being 'stunned' that takes place. I understand why neighbors and other family members bring food over. No one has the energy or inclination to do much about food in your immediate grief.

That is how we were after she died yesterday. And most of today. We've asked my brother in law that has been around the longest (35 years married to my sister) to give the eulogy, and he has been working on that. I had to find something to wear and spent the afternoon combing thrift shops. I just have casual clothes in summer. I was lucky and found just the right things for a great price.

Meanwhile, our phones ring and ring with people calling expressing their sorrow. My e-mail box is full of condolence messages.

Tomorrow we will go to the funeral home. My mom had long ago fallen away from any church. However, she really liked my brother's pastor. He will do a short prayer service tomorrow, and the memorial service Friday. So we will meet for the prayer service which is for immediate family. Then the visitation--when friends and other family members, co-workers, neighbors, etc. come and express their sorrow at our loss, and say goodbye to my mom if they knew her. I have a feeling that this will be hard.

Friday morning, there will be a service with a eulogy and prayers. Then we will drive to the cemetary. After the service there, we will gather for a meal. That is the traditional celebration of the person's life. As I recently told my niece--there is usually more laughter at the funeral dinner than at a wedding dinner. I'm not sure why, but I'm sure it is true.

My Mother Died Yesterday

It may seem an odd time to begin a blog. At the moment, I am using it to distract myself. I'm trying to offer a somewhat detached view of what has happened. I know things are done differently among families and towns, even in the United States. I'm sure it would be interesting to know how people do things around the world.

It all happened very suddenly. On the last Saturday in June we had a big family gathering. My youngest sister's youngest son had graduated from high school. It is traditional to have an "Open House" party with lots of food and beverages for friends and family to celebrate. I worked for days helping my sister clean. Her daughter and I chopped mountains of fruit and vegetables. My mom was not ill, but she was a heavy smoker and never exercised much. We were careful to give her one simple task. To sit and 'roll' slices of ham and then place a toothpick to hold it together. She sat and did that and everything was fine.

The party was wonderful, things went well. My mom and dad left a little earlier than usual, saying she had a headache. It was a noisy gathering, and a hot and humid day. No one was very concerned.

My parents had invited us all to brunch the next day. "Brunch" is what people here call a meal that occurs around 10 or 11 a.m.. It is not quite breakfast, not quite lunch. Another sister and her family had come in from Nebraska for the graduation party, and were driving home that afternoon. We had a nice meal and everyone went home.

The next morning my dad found my mom on the floor. She had fallen on her way to the bathroom. She probably had laid there a few hours. Due to the way their house is set up (and he's a little hard of hearing) he wouldn't have heard her. But we don't know that she called out at all. We learned later that she had three strokes within seconds of each other.

That early morning call was startling. At first there is so much confusion of information. I live about twenty miles away--and due to traffic and road conditions it's about a forty minute drive. My sister (who had just had the party) lives nearby. She arrived at the hospital at the same time that the ambulance reached there. She kept us posted on any news. Various tests were run, doctors were too busy to offer results. My mom was moved to a room. She was responding a little bit, would speak a few words and answer questions correctly. Her left side was weak, but not paralyzed.

Let me stop for a moment and say, my parents have some of the best insurance average Americans can have. I have no insurance. That's another story. But they are fortunate, my dad was a steelworker back when the unions were strong. He was able to keep good coverage when he retired. So as I complain here about the slow trickle of information and so on, it is not because they didn't have insurance.

I will also explain that I have three sisters and a brother. One sister lives in the same town as my parents. Another lives in Nebraska. I live with the other, and unlike me--she is currently employed. My brother and his family live a few hours away. However, he often comes to my parents hometown for appointments and meetings (he's a salesman).

Since we were assured that as much as they could tell my mom was doing well, we decided to sit with my dad in shifts. Both my sisters went to work. My brother had an afternoon appointment, so he came in early. I had a morning job interview, so I would 'relieve' him in the afternoon. None of us wanted my dad sitting there alone. But we knew that running tests can take hours and hours, and more hours before there were results.

In any case, just as they moved my mom to a regular hospital room the first test results came back and they discovered the three strokes. They moved her to intensive care and the rest of us hurried to the hospital.

She was still able to talk and respond. The doctors weren't sure where the blood clots had come from, or even where any were at the moment. They talked of a few more days in the hospital, then sending her to rehab for a few weeks.

Her blood pressure was still quite high, we were told that nowadays they didn't try to bring it down with medication when a person had just had a stroke. They had better recovery results if they waited a few days. She had difficulty swallowing, and we were told that they would probably put a feeding tube in the next day (Tuesday).

On Tuesday morning my sister went to the hospital. The doctor said that new test results showed that the position of the clot was such that they could not put in a feeding tube. They would run more tests. We waited hours and hours. My mom still stayed the same. Finally, the doctor came and said that 'it didn't look good'. They would wait twenty four hours and run more tests. I was frustrated, but that was my problem. Anyway, my mom had the stroke on Monday. On Wednesday we were finally told that the clots were in her brainstem and fluid was placing pressure there. It didn't look like there was anything they could do. Even though she seemed to be improving, she probably wouldn't. We had to prepare ourselves for the worst. My sister and her husband in Nebraska had only been home a few days, but decided to head back here.

On Thursday the doctor called us in and said she definitely was going to die. My mom had indicated no 'extraordinary measures' in her medical care. They suggested placing her in Hospice care for her remaining days. Since they couldn't feed her, and would be removing oxygen and i.v.'s, it would be a matter of days most likely. Fortunately, they were sure that she was not in pain. And my mom was still responsive, still could speak a few words and understand questions. She always responded that she was not in pain.

My dad went and explained to her what the doctor had said. He asked her if she understood and she said yes. He asked her if she wanted to go to Hospice, and she said yes. He asked her if she understood that Hospice is where people die, and she said yes. Imagine having that discussion with your wife of 50+ years.

So we moved her to Hospice. For various reasons, home care Hospice was not practical. This was a wonderful alternative. The room was lovely, and much more peaceful than the noise and crowding of other patient's families at the hospital. We brought in vases filled with flowers from her garden. CD's with her favorite music. A few of her favorite movies. She still could respond and recognize people the first day or so. Then she slowly deteriorated, and went in to herself.

They explained to us that this would happen. That as the person dies they slowly draw away from the living. As they near death, they will even pull away from touch. This happened with my mom. She lived a few days in Hospice, each she was a little less there. By Sunday, just one week from the day we all gathered for brunch, she wasn't responding at all. She died Tuesday morning, July 7, 2009.

Just Look At Their Yearbook Pictures

I came across this site and was amazed to discover how much you can tell about a person just by looking at their yearbook picture. Look at George W. Bush---

I bet if the the Dems had just put THIS picture on every ad, he wouldn't have gotten enough votes to make it so easy for him to steal the election in 2000.

Jimmy Carter
looks like a historical figure from one of my elementary school textbooks---clearly he was meant to be a statesman.

Here's the high school graduation photo of our current Vice President.
Joe Biden looks like the nice guy who is Vice President of your class. The kind of guy that always made your study group fun, and a lot of girls would flirt with him to practice. Because he was always loyal to his steady girlfriend.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton looks like the chubby boy who always had a crush on a girl who wouldn't give him the time of day. Maybe that is why he felt he had to make up for it later.

Barack Obama graduated at an unfortunate time in men's attire. Still, you can see he's a nice guy and probably an over-achiever.

Al Gore
looks too serious for his own good. During his campaign people complained he was too stiff and serious.

John McCain looks like the smartass that was basically decent, the guy that knew how to play the system to his advantage. You liked him because he was funny, interesting, and he would let you in for some of the perks now and then.

There's quite a difference between our current Vice President, and the last one. Dick, or Lord Vader as so many see him, has to be one of the most hated men in the world. He's pretty old, so this photo was a long long time ago.

Dick Cheney still has that smarmy smile.

I was amazed at how pretty both Hillary and Nancy looked when they graduated.

Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi
are clearly those brainy pretty girls that scared a lot of guys--then and now.

Sarah Palin recently resigned as Governor, giving one the the most truly bizarre resignation speeches ever. Keith Olbermann compared in in drama to the Nixon "Checkers" speech. For those who don't know, Vice Presidential candidate (he was Vice President under Eisenhower) Nixon was accused of 'ethics violations' during the campaign. He gave a dramatic speech saying that the only 'gift' he had ever taken from anyone was his dog 'Checkers'. And that his wife wore a good "Republican cloth coat"--unlike the mink coats some candidates wives were wearing. Anyway, that was in the fifties. His ticket won. Later he ran for President against JFK and lost. I think it was after losing the race for Governorship of California, he made another dramatic speech that he was done with politics, and that the media "Wouldn't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more."

Of course a few years later he had a dramatic comeback, was elected President in 1968 and almost served two terms -- but had to resign because of Watergate. Anyway, it is something to keep in mind as we think of Sarah Palin. There are differences, Nixon did have a more substantive background. But the fact that Palin was a Vice Presidential candidate at all shows how shallow our political pool has become. I couldn't help it.

It's hard not to compare Sarah Palin
Tina Fey's high school pictures. I know I sound snarky, but it's interesting to see that the former beauty queen is nicely fixed up with her hair done and makeup perfect. Since she is appearing on tv in fishing waders trying to how how 'normal' she is compared to the rest of us. Except.........I'm not a millionaire. And I wouldn't be caught dead in waders. Too hot.