Monthly Archives: October 2011

One continuous dirge…


Ellen certainly needed a break from recent pressures. She got it during a weekend trip to the Bay area and San Francisco to see her mom.

The past few months of writing feels like one continuous dirge.  Hopefully I’ve earned a hall pass from such heaviness.  The most recent two weeks of letters to Ellen and Reid have been nothing more than opening my pea-brain and letting anything and everything come out.  No effort has been expended to do anything beyond the very plain, very vanilla and very ordinary.

My guess is the kids are ready for a breather.  I say that because in a condolence letter from my friend Steve in Des Moines, he opined on the subject of our own looming mortality, and he wondered if our children “see us as we see our parents?”  My response to him just this morning was “probably not.”   I think people tend to avoid the unpleasantness of looking too far ahead.  We deal with the sadness at hand when that time arrives and not until then.  That’s why insurance types build actuarial tables.  That’s for them to worry about.  We know what lies ahead but that’s just it – it is ahead and not now.

So for the time being it is okay to revert to everyday fare in the notes to the kids.  They’re ready for a break, and I am, too.

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October 17, 2011

Ellen/Reid: I really do appreciate the concern of you two, but honestly, everything is fine and it will continue to be fine.  We should have no worries until we start arguing about what food (and how much) is going on the Thanksgiving table.  Ellen, the Boyz will handle nearly all of the “food preparation.”  I put dibs on at least the breakfast portions and am expecting to do dinner duty, too.  Geez, in just over a month we’ll be assembling in St. Paul.

EP, wow, you’ll be back from San Francisco before you get a chance to read this.  That sounds like a fun trip.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall around you two.  Talk about a gab fest, but with very good reason.  Your timing is extra-special good on that little trip.  Your mom knows how to shop and I fear – Tim does, too – that those skills have rubbed off on you.  But that’s half the fun.  Why go if you can’t head into the city?  Duh.

Your uncle’s Dance to raise money for cancer research made YouTube.  Gayle somehow got the link and posted it yesterday.  I talked to him this morning and he said he only made a few minor missteps in his almost three minute routine.  He didn’t win the event – the wife of a doctor who contributed several thousand – took top honors.  There were four amateur dancers entered – all are cancer survivors – and they each teamed with a professional.  But Ralph was pretty pleased with his performance as the others had some pretty significant stumbles during their routines.  He was worried about dropping his dance partner but he was able to hold on.  Ralph and Gayle will be in Europe at the time you get this.  They’re headed to Paris for a week.  I’m not aware they’ve ever been out of the lower 48 except for Joe’s wedding in Mexico.  Good for them to get away.  They’ve deserved it.

I’ve reentered the real world and am feeling pretty good about things.  It’s a pretty big weight off of our collective shoulders.  There have been no ultra-sad moments the last couple of days so that seems like a spot of progress.  Last week I was just exhausted but that seems to be passing by at this moment.  Sleep patterns are returning although I will never be accused of staying up late enough to catch the 11 p.m. news.  I think that grates on Felicia a little bit since I hit the sack much earlier than she is otherwise used to.  She and I went through the big box of photos the other night and it really is a cavalcade of memories.  I tried to explain what she was looking at but didn’t do a very good job.  We as a clan did and have done a poor job of writing pertinent information on the back of photos about identities and circumstances around the shot.  I’ll try to rectify that for the two of you.  The online resources will be available to find out more information about people in the pictures.  At least you’ll have some first and last names and towns where they lived.  That’s better than nothing in terms of getting a head start.

There’s no more news on the job front and I take that as a positive.  We keep getting hammered in the daily press and some of it is deserved but not all of it.  Reid, since you have an account at the bank, you can identify with some of the analysis that says the marketing geeks at the big banks know what they’re doing in that they’ve made other services, such as online bill pay, etc., too convenient and attractive to make the switch.  We can only hope that is true.  I still like what I do, for the most part.  And I’m still working.

Well, let the countdown to T-Day in St. Paul begin.  My estimate is a 10-12 pound bird (I don’t think you need a fresh one or a humanely raised or free range turkey or whatever they call them), a 10 lb. sack of potatoes and some other fixin’s and we’re golden.  That will be good eatin’, followed by good snoozin’.

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The world has begun to rotate again…


Reid and son-in-law Tim really did a rock-solid job the week before last. They made a sad situation that much more palatable.

The world has begun to rotate again as life resumes its normal pace.  I find a semblance of routine has started to return.   No more worries about a late night call or hurried flight West.  For sure, there’s a peace about the outcome along with a sense of healing in knowing mom has accepted a higher calling.  How else would one think about it?

People have asked ‘how you doing?’ and the answer is “pretty well.”  That’s true.  No doubt it would be different if mom, and dad, too, would have been in the prime of their years only to leave us suddenly without adequate time for either side to say goodbye or prepare ourselves.

The more earthly concerns took a deserved back seat in recent months.  Now it’s back to the stuff that shouldn’t bother us but keeps creeping into the picture.   Ellen and Reid seem a fairly resilient pair (perhaps moreso than their old man); they roll with the punches with the best of ’em.  Now, their minds and emotions have been freed up as well.  Onward and upward.

————-

October 11, 2011

Ellen/Reid: I don’t know about you guys but I am really dragging so far this week.  Sleep habits are now non-habits.  But we’ll regroup soon enough and be on our merry way.  I really appreciated your support last week.  You two came through like champs.  It was great to see everyone (even under the circumstances) especially the family.  It was noticeable at the funeral how many older people there were.  Most were mom (and dad’s) remaining friends.  You have to wonder what goes through their minds at events such as that as they watch old friends fall by the wayside.  It is just the way of the world.

Downstairs here is a large box of family photos.  Your uncle and I went through I don’t know how many boxes and stacks and divvied them up.  We tossed any pics where we didn’t have a clue who was who.  All the rest went to Uncle Henry, some to our cousins (both named Anne), and still others to mom and dad’s friends.  Some particularly old photos went to the county historical society in the event they needed any more old photos.  If the energy can be summoned, I’ll try to write on the back of each, in pencil, who the folks in the shots are, and the approximate dates.  Virtually all the pictures in the box are black and white.  Since I’m not much for scrapbooking or anything like that, the photos will probably remain in that white box until such time you two go through it.  It will be marked as such.  At least most of the sorting will have been done.  I’m not sure what the photos really tell us of our family history since there hasn’t been much of an effort to archive who did what and when.  I’ve got some notes that your grandfather dictated to me a couple of days before his death.  I’ll tuck those in there, too.

The rumble of big changes at work when I got back.  Huge departments consolidated and shifted around.  What it means is that lots of us, maybe thousands, will be on pins and needles in the next couple of months jobs-wise.  If it occurs, it occurs.  No sense stewing about it.  One door closes, another opens.  Might need to dust off those freelance hiring tips I kept yammering about to my class last summer.  That’s okay, too.  Social Security and retirement aren’t that far off although it would be good to cushion the nest for another couple of years.  I’m mildly surprised that they haven’t offered the older segment of our work force the prospect of early retirement.  Who knows.  That might surface yet.  In any event the shock factor of a pink slip at this time last year is not quite the same.  We will get through this.

Picked up a book in Grand Island to help pass the time, and by sheer coincidence it dovetails on precisely this issue of jobs and an approach to business life.  Babbit by Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis.  It was written in the early 1920s and is an incredible descriptor of overindulgence and misplaced sense of well-being ans supposed excess.  It’s really good.  If either of you wants it, claim it now.  I’ll be done with it in the next day or so.  Ellen, it’s the first book I’ve read in a while, but it’s spurring me to find other works to hold my interest and keep me away from the tube.

Okay, guys, over and out.  Time for us to move upward and onward, to things like, say, Thanksgiving.

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A week ago today…


I stopped sending mom a weekly letter earlier this year.  I was told the letters sat in a stack, unopened and therefore unread.

So, a week ago today, October 7, I treated mom’s eulogy as a final, albeit indirect, letter to her.

————-

Good morning.  My brother Ralph and I and our families and our uncle Henry are happy you are here on this special day to remember our mother and mark her passage from one stage of life to another.

No doubt mom is wondering why folks would take the time to be here on a Friday morning, but to Ralph and me, it is a sign of what Barbara meant to you, not just to us and our families.  What she doesn’t have to wonder about is the reception she got from dad, who welcomed her with a “I’m sure glad you’re here.”  That’s as it should be.

Mom was homemaker, but that tag came with an asterisk.  She was mother, spouse, sister, friend, volunteer.  The easy part today is to put our collective finger on the essence of Barbara.  To my twin and me, she was a wonderful mother.  To four grandchildren and three great grandchildren she was the grandma every kid hopes to have, even if in these past few years she didn’t get to know them as well as she might have liked, or them her.  To most of you here, she was a friend, the kind who stood with you and by you.  And above all, she was a wonderful spouse and companion to our late father.

For the two of us, she was caring but not doting, supportive without being overbearing.  You know, raising twins, especially two over-active, occasional knuckleheads like the two of us had to be an ordeal.  When we were kids playing hockey in the basement or roughhousing throughout her house, I would wonder why she would say, and in a pleasant tone of voice no less, ‘why don’t you boys go outside?’  In that vein, mom practiced a sort of flex-discipline.  Ralph and I had plenty enough leash to play, explore and grow.  When we got off track or had trouble with the difference between right and wrong, she pulled the leash, always gently and never too hard but a tug nonetheless.  You never recognize it as a kid, but mom was teaching us the larger lessons of life to be caring, considerate and respectful.  Just as she was.

But there was another angle to mom that still has Ralph and I chuckling.  Those of you who teed it up with her at Miracle Hills golf course were likely on the receiving end of another of her teachings; her competitive streak.  Ralph and I got a full dose of it, but in a good way.  We knew no game of horse in the driveway with mom was ever done as long as she had at least one letter left.  Her two handed set shot was killer.  When we played softball in the makeshift diamond she helped carve out of a cornfield behind our house on north 63rd, you could count on mom to get a base hit.  On the golf course, no putt was ever given.  When we played pitch at the kitchen table, she was all in.  But when the games were done, she was mom all over again.

This past week, my brother and I have had a lot to talk about in terms of Barbara, and we spent considerable time pouring over decades of family photos and memorabilia.  We came across the pictures you’d expect; the two of us in matching outfits when we were peanuts, family vacations in Colorado and elsewhere, and mom’s own younger years with her parents Hank and Mildred, her brother Henry and her sister Patty and their families.

But as the stack of family photos grew, so did a second pile of pictures.  In this stack went photographs of friends.  Once Ralph and I flew the coop, friends became a focal point for mom and dad.  There were pictures on cruise ships, group shots at parties, pre-golf poses on the first tee in California and Hawaii plus lots of other unidentifiable occasions.  This is what mom loved; time with friends who were essentially her extended family.

Ralph and I would like to name you all but then it becomes a numbers game, but you know who you are and so do we.  Thank you for being an equally good friend to Barbara.

I don’t want to overlook mom’s sense of volunteerism, and that includes her time spent with the Women’s Circle here at Dundee.  I don’t know how many events such as this she served at or the volume of refreshments she helped prepare and serve, other than to say it was a lot.  The thing about such volunteerism was that she never really talked about it; she just did it.  Same for being a volunteer at Clarkson Hospital.  She didn’t tout it, she just did it.  That was mom’s way.  So went another life lesson for us.

Now that she is gone, mercifully reunited with her friend and husband Ralph, it is up to the rest of the Bradleys, Bensons, Andersens and Pommers to take Barb’s quiet lessons and live those in our own lives.  Easier said than done to be sure, but a worthy goal in itself.

So we want to thank you again for being here, not in sadness but in the joy of knowing Barbara at all.  Thanks be to God.

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Postscript: Sept. 30…


The visitation was a wonderful thing. Full of stories and laughter, nice chats with my mother's friends and our assembled family.

A couple of posts ago I whined about kicking 2011 in the butt at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, but am now backing away from such stupidity.

In hindsight, what has occured is a good thing.  For mom, it is release from her condition and, for believers, a reunion with her husband.  For those of us left behind, there is relief, too; for Ralph and Gayle it ends a terribly long spell spent with mom in varied nursing homes and care facilities.  For me, it ends prolonged guilt that the two of them and mom were way out there in central Nebraska with me all the way East.  A number of folks mentioned that very thing; her suffering is at a merciful end, and ours, too.

In an odd way, mourning is tougher for friends than it might be for us.  I think people struggle (I have) in their well-meaning to find the right words or the correct way to phrase their condolences.  It is just an awkard time.  Still, all of what people did say is very much appreciated.  

Much of the time that might be set aside for pure brief is waylayed by the practical matters at hand, i.e. coordinating airport pickups for Ellen and Tim, Reid, and my uncle Henry and aunt Mary and their escort, my cousin Barb from Texas.  There were meetings with a lawyer (attorneys have a strong grip on the post-death process) and financial folks who tended to our parent’s estate, to say nothing of pouring over pictures and family items so Ralph and Gayle could reclaim a sizeable portion of their basement. 

But there were a few moments when grief properly showed itself.  As is the way of visitations, my brother and I got to the funeral home two hours early to make sure preparations were in order.  Once we agreed that mom looked was we hoped she would (she did), and that there were no typos in the annoucement brochure, I found myself in an empty pew in the parlor.  That’s when events crowded in on me.  The other was during a walk in the rural country just west of Grand Island.  The third was on the second leg of the flight home.  For some reason the idea of traveling still further away from mom and dad swept over me.  I’ll have to go back once mom’s marker is in place so I can say hello to them together.

—————

September 26, 2011

Ellen/Reid: The phone was with me all weekend in the event the call would come about your grandmother.  Usually the phone is set to vibrate or silent, but this time the volume was turned up.  I find myself with this increasing sense that combines doom, inevitability and sadness.  Not a very good combination of three things.  I worry about your grandmother and what is going through her mind during these days.  What is she thinking (if she can think)?  What bothers me the most is that she is alone.  Your uncle is there often enough, but she’s still alone.  That is the big thing; she is there and I am here, leaving her to fend for herself, no one there to give her comfort as often as she needs it or could certainly use it.  It doesn’t give a very good feeling as a son to not be there with his mom.  For all these past weeks I’ve thought I would be pretty stoic about things but last night it just began to hit me that her end will come and I won’t be there to at least hold her hand.

That must be the guilt part of it seeping through.  I’m not sure what she would vocalize about it.  She’s had a rough last few years and now I second guess myself about not getting out there more often, especially over the summer once I knew her condition was slipping very rapidly.  It just makes me feel pretty shitty about things.  Now, there’s no going back and trying to make amends all over again.  There is no time.  Instead I’m down here playing golf and lolling around when I could be up there to help her out in her final moments.  It just makes me angry to think about my negligence.  The final good byes from a few weeks ago just aren’t enough.  I’m just not handling it was well as could be done.  I told John about my misgivings and doubts, and he assured me there was no right or wrong way to handle such situations, especially if the person (your grandmother) has a diminished capacity to recognize us or anyone else.  That was comforting to some degree.

The obituary is my responsibility and there’s been almost no progress on it.  In fact it hasn’t even been started.  There’s been not a lot of thinking put toward it.  It most certainly won’t be as long as your grandfather’s but when the time comes I’ll put my full creative juices into it.  Usually there’s no problem in at least mentally piecing together items like this but now there’s a big case of writer’s block.  I don’t know how to start it out and what the middle and ending parts will be.  What do you say about your mother that you haven’t already thought about on your own?  We’re about to find out.  Ralph and Gayle will most certainly edit it so I have to take that into account.  Obituaries aren’t for the family but for the circle of friends.  I’ve been looking at some in the paper here in Charlotte but there’s just no feel for how it should come together. 

Someone mentioned a few days ago that when his mother passed away, he told his sister that now the two of them, both in their 60s, were orphans.  That was an interesting way to look at things even at their age.  There’s some truth to it.  Not that it applies to either of you because you’ve been on your own for quite a while and have made you own ways, admirably so, but when your grandmother passes there won’t be a final lifeline for advice and counsel any more.  That will all be gone, just as it does for every generation.  Not to be morbid about it, but these are just the things you think about, it seems to me, when the torch is passed.  The flame doesn’t go out but it’s instead just handed off to whomever comes next. 

The phone will remain on high volume for however much time it takes for this unhappy predicament to pass.  You might stay on alert for at least a text message that a call is about to come your way.  The rest of the planning is already underway, but the call will be your sign that the plan is being put to use.

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Sept. 30, 7:32 p.m…


The inevitable did come to pass Friday night.  Mom passed away peacefully in Wood River, Nebr.  There are a lot of conflicting emotions which range from thankfulness that Barbara had minimal, if any, suffering to a personal guilt that mixes grief with my own selfish relief that the process is finished, too.

I’m in Omaha this morning.  My brother and I have wrapped up most of the details about the service.  Family begins to arrive about noon (Reid has already notified me that traffic to O’Hare in Chicago is awful and that he may miss his flight, but I’ve assured him that whenever he gets here is fine.  No biggie.)  My ‘bro and me need to be at the funeral home about 3:00 to make sure everything is in order.  The visitation is this evening and the internment and funeral are Friday morning.

I’m supposed to speak for the family, but already have deep misgivings about what will be said and how.  There’s too much effort spent on wordsmithing rather than just letting it flow.  It is both frustrating and maddening.  It doesn’t need to be perfect, just heartfelt.  At this point I’m pretty much addled and in a daze so it will be what it will be. 

I’ve heard from lots of friends by e-mail and some by phone, and for that I am appreciative.  As you know, too, much of this has a surreal quality about it.  We’ll get by this and keep moving forward.  That’s what the survivors do, I guess.

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