Posted by barb on Aug 5, 2011 in Family

If I could bottle the smell of fresh sawdust, I would. Then I would pull it out everyday and take a small whiff. Especially when I needed a reminder:

  • that I am loved
  • that I have always been loved, since before I was born
  • that I am connected to a wonderful network of people, friend and family
  • that there are people who love their job.every.single.day they go to work
  • that I should be really proud of all of my accomplishments – big and small
  • that my family is special, spectacular, and a source of pride by itself

Why sawdust? Because that’s Dad. He was a carpenter. I’d smell sweet sawdust when he gave me a tour of his latest job. I didn’t necessarily appreciate the job site, but his joy and pride were evident. There would be sawdust on his lunch pail and water jug at the end of the day. When I’d borrow his truck as a teenager, sawdust was my constant companion.*

I’ve always loved the smell of sawdust, but I don’t think I understood why. Now I cherish fleeting whiffs of sawdust as a comforting reminder of Dad.

* Occasionally we’d have to take his truck to a dressy affair (especially if Mom and I wanted a separate vehicle to escape before Dad wanted to leave), so we’d have to take extra care to check the seats before getting in with our good clothes.

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Pieces of Dad – 2

Posted by barb on May 9, 2011 in Family

Sunday evenings were my night to talk with Mom and Dad. Previously it was Fridays, and I think Mondays were a night for a while. But ever since I moved away, there has always been a night that we have set aside to talk. In general, though, we didn’t talk much between our weekly phone calls, but when we did, it was an evening call, since they knew I wasn’t home all day.

A day-time phone call between our weekly “appointments” generally meant something was wrong – someone was in the hospital, someone had an accident, a pet died, or some other bad thing.

One weekday I came home to my apartment and checked my messages, I heard this one from my Dad, “Hi Barb….I just wanted to tell you how much I love you.” His voice was crackly with emotion. I went into a bit of a panic. The way he was talking, the timing of the call, the words he said made me wonder what could be wrong. However irrational it may have seemed, I wondered if he was thinking about killing himself, given the emotion in his voice, and he was calling everyone before he did.

I called him immediately, on his cell phone since I knew he wouldn’t be home from work yet. All the while thinking the worst.

Dad barely picked up before I asked him, “What’s going on, Dad??”

He, as always, was casual, “Oh, you mean with the message I left you?”

I was exasperated, “Yes, what’s going on, are you okay??”

I think Dad finally heard in my voice how worried I was. “I’m okay, I’m okay.”

“So, what was that all about?”

“What, I’m not allowed to tell my daughter how much I love her?”

“Well, yes, but maybe not mid-week in the middle of the day! I was worried you were thinking about doing something stupid.”

“Oh, no, I’m sorry. No, I was just thinking about how Mark just found out that Devon was pregnant again. Remember she had been told she wouldn’t be able to get pregnant, but here she is with her second child. And what a pleasant surprise for them. Then I started remembering what a pleasant surprise you were for your Mom and me. I just needed to call you and tell you how much I love you.”

He’d been driving to work and imagining his life without the pleasant little surprise that was me. He and Mom hadn’t had trouble getting pregnant like my cousin; instead, I’m the poster girl for failed birth control. Heh. But he wanted me to know how much he loved having me as a little surprise.*

Yeah. He was that kind of guy. And I miss him.

*Though I always imagine that their first thought on finding out Mom was pregnant was “oh crap…I thought we were done with this.

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Pieces of Dad – 1

Posted by barb on Mar 21, 2011 in Pictures, Random Thoughts


Memories are starting to come through the fog, particularly when I started looking through my flickr stream. Last night I started realizing that everything I’ve done with Dad in the past couple months is the last thing of that kind that I will ever do with Dad. Had I known, I would have cherished them all more – but then, I suppose, they wouldn’t have been real moments with Dad.

On February 5, we were supposed to have a 100th birthday party for my Grandma Evelyn. She had different plans, passing away just two weeks shy of 100 years. So I decided that Mom, Dad and I needed to do something fun that day (partly, too, because I was leaving MN the next day). I happened to find the Hudson Hot Air Affair in Hudson, WI, just across the MN-WI border. This will forever be the last “event” that I went to with my Dad. I know I had a great time…I think he would say the same.

I find myself trying to remember the day. I know we got up waaaaay too early so we could be there for the mass ascension. I remember that it was very foggy that morning, and that I drove because Dad was feeling a bit dizzy. (This dizziness is what finally got him back to the cardiologist, and was almost certainly caused by his decreased blood flow from his bad heart. It didn’t go away, and kept him from working all of February.) I’m certain he and I were a bit snippy in the car because he either assumed I knew where I was going or because he was not giving me very good directions (can’t remember which).

Mom and Dad on the balloon field

Sadly the mass ascension didn’t happen, but many of the balloons still set up so that we could see them, take pictures, and talk with the balloon pilots. Honestly, I was just as happy seeing all the balloons on the field as I think I might have been with the mass ascension. Mom and I certainly made fun of Dad as he wandered off without us to take pictures. I also had the presence of mind to get Mom and Dad together in a picture with the balloons in the background. (Of course, there are very few pictures of me and Dad in pictures, because we are the family photographers…sigh.)

After walking around the balloon field, we went into the school (whose grounds were being used as the balloon field) where they had food and crafts for sale. We started with cocoa and treats to warm up. Then we perused the crafts. I think Dad bought something, but now I can’t remember what it was – might have been something to help him keep warm at work (he’s a carpenter, and often works outside in MN winters). I also picked up some jewelry for my mom and aunt (which they’ll get at Christmas, if I can find them again). I’ll admit that Dad was having some trouble getting around at this point – but we all just assumed that the heart surgery would take care of these problems…at least after his long healing process.

I suppose that if I had known that this would be the last big event that I went to with Dad that I might have cherished him more. Maybe I would have followed him as he wandered off to take pictures. Maybe I wouldn’t have snipped at him for not giving me clear directions in the car. But then…that’s what we always did, so in so many ways this was a typical outing with Mom and Dad. And maybe that’s what I should be cherishing right now. The real moments we had together.

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Holding Pattern

Posted by barb on Mar 17, 2011 in Random Thoughts

I am not really grieving my Dad yet. Instead I’m still in a holding pattern, emotionally.

The last time we had a death in the family, I remember being in “project mode” in the days leading up to the funeral. During this time we were so busy making plans for the funeral and viewing that there was little time to completely break down (which is not to say there weren’t complete break-downs, but they were limited due to knowing that we had a lot to do). Then after the funeral is when everything really started to sink in, and we truly started to say our good-byes and come to terms with our loss.

With Dad we can’t yet start to let things sink in. Why? Because he left Mom in a huge financial mess. Without getting into details, let’s just say that there’s money owed to the IRS and there is no equity in the house. Basically Mom has nothing besides her social security income.

So, instead of starting to mourn Dad, we are still in crisis mode: where is Mom going to live? Can she bring her cats? What do we do with Dad’s personal stuff? Normally they recommend that you don’t make big decisions for a year after such a loss, but we don’t have that luxury – we can’t afford the house beyond April.

We are also mad at Dad for leaving Mom in such a state. I know that he didn’t mean to leave her like this. He had no intention of leaving us right now – he had made lots of plans for his recovery and beyond. The main reason he was in such dire straights is because the economy is in the shitter and the construction business isn’t doing very well right now (Dad was a carpenter). But its hard not to be mad, especially because he hid from Mom just how far in the crapper their finances were.

The only ray of sunshine is that we have a friend of the family who deals with closing estates. He’s helping us to navigate this confusing time, and going to make sure that Mom gets the most out of her social security as she can.

I’m afraid for when I leave crisis mode – I know this is going to hit me pretty hard. But for now I’m just exhausted, angry, and in a holding-pattern.

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Not what we expected

Posted by barb on Mar 12, 2011 in Random Thoughts

Please hug your loved ones a little tighter today….and every day. I will warn you in advance that this journey does not have a happy ending.

I’m writing this from my Mom’s house in Minnesota. I came here on Tuesday, March 1st to be in town for my Dad’s heart surgery. He was going to have a valve replaced and a bypass on Wedesday (March 2).

Dad was almost cocky going into the surgery – assumed he’d be in the ICU for a couple days, then in a regular room for a few days, then heading home. He had made plans for his recovery at home, purchasing a foot-operated recliner, since he wouldn’t be able to operate a regular one for a few weeks. He also had a TV installed in his room on the main level, since he wouldn’t be able to get the basement for a while. I planned originally to stay until Friday, when we thought he’d get out of the ICU. I figured at that point I would be fairly comfortable leaving Dad, knowing that he was on the mend.

On that Tuesday, Mom and Dad (along with my niece, Anya) picked me up from the airport after an informational class about recovering from heart surgery. During the afternoon, Dad was busy making sure that things were in order at the house so Mom would have a relatively easy time while he was in the hospital and during his recovery. This included a trip to the car repair shop, where the owner gave him a loaf of focaccia bread – somehow Dad always knew which day the owner would have fresh bread! That evening, we decided to go out for dinner, Dad, Mom and I. We went to Pizza Luce in St. Louis Park, and had a fun time. (Mom and I obsessed for a while about a closed-off door near our table, until the waitress opened it up for us to see that it was just another dining room.)

We had an early-morning on Wednesday, needing to get Dad to the hospital by 5:30 AM. The whole family showed up to see Dad off, including Dad’s best friends, Dick and Sharon. We took a picture in the waiting room.

The family seeing Dad off to his surgery

They took Dad back to get him in his hospital gown, and ready to be wheeled off to the OR. Before they took him, we were able to see him one last time.

Dad ready to be wheeled off to surgery

As they wheeled him off, we all sent him with well-wishes – he didn’t want us to say good-bye. My last words to him while he was conscious were, “I’ll see you soon, Dad,” along with a big hug.

From there, the family went to the hospital waiting room. Mom was issued a beeper along with a list of the events that would trigger the beeper, such as entering the OR, Dad being put on the heart and lung machine, closing OR. We were also issued a number for Dad that would appear on a computer screen telling us about those same events. The surgery was supposed to last about 6 hours.

Our first clue that things were going awry was about 6 hours after the surgery started. Dad had not entered closing, and was still listed as on the heart and lung machine. Mom got a page shortly after that and went to talk with a nurse (?) about Dad. Turns out that the repair and bypass had gone fairly well, but they were having trouble stabilizing Dad’s blood pressure to get him off of the heart and lung machine. They had also discovered that his aorta was slightly damaged, so were doing some kind of repairs to that.

Finally, around 6 or 7PM, Dad was finally out of surgery and brought up to the surgical ICU. The surgeon came to talk with us about the surgery and Dad’s current state. It turns out that Dad’s bad valve was much thicker than a normal valve – a normal one is cellophane-thin; Dad’s was a good half-inch thick. Because his heart had to work so hard to push blood through that valve, his heart beefed up (the surgeon called it a “Schwarzenegger” heart). Unfortunately, in beefing up, one of his heart chambers became much smaller than it should be. The surgeon was surprised that Dad had come into the hospital under his own steam. This, and the damage to the aorta, were all surprises during the surgery.

Because Dad had been on the heart and lung machine so long, he had taken in a lot of extra fluid (40 pounds, from what we heard). He was so bloated that they were unable to close his surgical incision. They covered it, plus he was on high doses of several blood pressure medications, a ventilator, and was being kept in a coma-state so he wouldn’t aggravate his open chest. The surgeon indicated several times that Dad was “a very sick man” – but somehow I don’t think it completely sunk in for any of us.

After another hour or so, we got to go in and see Dad. I won’t lie…it was pretty shocking. He was on the maximum amount of life support, and he did not look much like my Dad, but we still thought he would get better. Wednesday night we decided to all go home after we saw Dad. My Mom’s guest bed felt so good that night…

…until 6:20 AM, when Mom woke me, saying that the hospital had called and told us to get there as soon as we could, Dad was going back into surgery. I dressed in about 2 minutes. Mom, too. We also had a little girl who slept over, so we got her dressed and out to the car. Somehow we also called my brothers, Dave and Kevin, and my grandmother, but were in the car by about 6:30. While I drove, my mom also called Sweetie to see if she could pick up Gram in Red Wing (an hour drive away). Kevin called a few minutes later from the hospital, wondering where to go. Mom asked Kevin how he got there so fast, and Kevin replied that he had wondered why it took him so long. Time was playing funny tricks.

We didn’t get there in time to see Dad before the surgery, but we knew that ahead of time. We went straight to the surgical waiting room and proceeded to wait. We had no idea how long it would be, not even sure if they would have to put him back on the heart and lunch machine, which we thought would probably kill him. It turned out to be a short surgery, and when the surgeon came back, he was fairly happy. He explained that they had trouble regulating Dad’s blood pressure overnight. When they went back in, there was some blood pooling around his heart, so they put in a few more drains, which seemed to solve the problem. The surgeon indicated that it was the best possible reason he could think of for Dad’s overnight condition.

At this point the days start to run together. We decided that we wanted to have at least someone at the hospital at all times. That first night I slept in the hospital waiting room with my Mom and both brothers. Subsequent nights I made Mom go home and sleep while Dave and I slept in the hospital. My husband arrived from Virginia on Friday, because after Thursday’s surprise surgery I thought it would be best if he were here. Mainly I wanted him here to help out with my Mom and Grandma, and I needed him here in case anything went wrong. Sigh.

Dad also went on full-time dialysis to regulate the fluid in and out of his system. My best friend was worried at this point, because she had never seen someone come back after their kidney stopped functioning. However, the surgeon told us on Saturday that Dad was making small amounts of urine, so his kidney seemed to be coming back. They continued the dialysis to try and pull fluids from his body – trying to lose some of that 40 pounds of fluid-weight he gained. They had to do it slowly, because slight changes to his body caused changes in his blood pressure.

Dad went back into surgery again on Sunday, but only to clean his wound to make sure no bacteria were present. They also pulled out the balloon pump helping his heart, because he didn’t seem to need it anymore.

We would go in to see him periodically, telling him about the people who visited and left comments on his CaringBridge site. I’m sure he could hear us. My cousin-in-law, Devon, makes and decorates cakes, and often gives Dad a tupperware full of cake and frosting. Every time we told him that she had cake in her fridge for him, and that she might just toss it if he didn’t get better soon, his blood pressure went up. I know he was fighting.

The nursing team was fabulous. We tried to stay out of their way, but they were more than happy to have us in the room when they could work around us. They would keep us up-to-date on his medications and condition. It seemed that Dad was making baby-steps in the right direction. By Sunday, Dad was off of two of his blood pressure medications; however, due to a national shortage, he had to be switched to two other ones Sunday, which were not as good as the initial one they had him on.

I don’t remember much of those days. My nieces where there Wed – Fri and came back Mon morning (they spent the weekend with their cousins). Two of them got to go to see Disney’s Princesses on Ice on Thursday, the other went to the MN Rollergirls on Saturday. I spent the time playing Zoo Tycoon and on a crafting project. I didn’t really have the brain power for much more. I did go to my Mom’s house for a few hours every day to nap and shower.

We also bonded with another family there with their mother. The first night, they were told she would not make it through the night. By Monday, she was off her ventilator and causing “trouble”, so they gave us some hope. Unfortunately, there was another family there who had just had to make the decision to discontinue life support. This put Mom and me in a bad state, wondering how we would handle that decision if it came to that.

Monday morning, my brothers and I went in to see Dad around 6AM – we wanted to get in before the nurse’s shift change (when we weren’t allowed in) between 7 and 8:30 AM. The night nurse, Kevin, was very optimistic – he said Dad had had a pretty good night, and he was able to pull another liter fluid. There were some issues trying to deal with the new blood pressure medications, but all seemed to be well by the time we went in there at 6AM.

When I came back to the waiting room after breakfast (around 9?), we were still unable to see Dad. This wasn’t terribly unusual – Dad’s shift change always seemed to take a bit longer than the blackout, so we weren’t overly worried. At this point, it was me, Dave, his girls, and Dad’s friend, Dick, in the waiting room.

Around 10:30, a nurse popped into the waiting room and asked if my Mom was there. She was not, and the nurse said to get Mom here as quick as she could. I called home to get Andrew to bring Mom and Gram to the hospital. I also called my best friend. Shortly after that, Dad’s surgeon came in to tell us that he wasn’t sure what was the problem, but he was going to go back and try a few more things on Dad.

What seemed like a couple minutes later a couple of doctors came into the room. It was still just me, Dave, his girls, and Dick. We didn’t know these doctors, but they had apparently been on Dad’s case since Thursday or Friday. I don’t know exactly what they were saying…I still thought they were coming with news that they had stabilized him. Then one of them started saying, “we did everything we could for him…”, and I started thinking, “wait…that’s what they say when someone dies. What are they telling me this for? They must be wrong.” Then it started to hit me. Dad was gone. He fought, but it was just too much for his body. My Daddy was gone.

Kevin arrived soon, then my sister-in-law, my best friend, my husband, Mom and Grandma. One of the hospital chaplains also showed up. I’m not religious, but I know he was a comfort to many of my family. After about a half hour or 45 minutes, we finally got to see Dad – we had asked them to remove all of the tubes and machines from him, so it took them a while to clean him up.

Finally we got to go in his room and say good-bye.

So please hug your loved ones tightly today and tell them how much they mean to you.

Dad on a big ship in Duluth

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Quiet Canadian Christmas

Posted by barb on Dec 25, 2008 in Pictures, Travels

Jo peeks in one of the bags under the tree

We’ve had a quiet Christmas. Yesterday it snowed again – third snow storm this week, I think. We’ve decided to just hunker down and enjoy being in the house. Not much to report from here – we opened presents last night, slept in this morning, and are just kicking around the house. We’ve watched the Christmas specials that I brought with me (White Christmas, A Christmas Carol (the Patrick Stewart/TNT version), and A Christmas Story). Andrew’s cousin came for a little while yesterday, and his Auntie and another cousin came for tea today. We may go into “the village” tomorrow to check out a new antique store.

We’ve been keeping an eye on the weather to see when I should drive home. It looks like I’m still okay to head home on Saturday — the forecast is for rain and 50 degrees for a high in upstate New York. Hopefully I’ll be home Saturday night.

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At Last!

Posted by barb on Aug 27, 2007 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

My new baby niece, Anya, who was born August 16. Dad finally uploaded pics:
My girls!

Check out Dad’s other pictures of the girls here.



Why do I feel like a Piranha?

Posted by barb on Jun 4, 2007 in Random Thoughts

I just got off the phone with my Dad. His mom has been in long-term care for several months now, and he and my aunts are holding a garage sale this weekend with much of what they had cleaned out of her apartment earlier this year. They are giving all of the grand-kids a chance to pick out things that they want to keep.

I can’t get home for the sale this weekend, so Dad called me this evening to describe the items in the sale. I had him put my name on a few things, but I have to say that I’m feeling a bit dirty.

Grandma’s not gone yet. She’s 96. She moved from her apartment to assisted living last year, and then to a long-term memory care place in April. She’s not going back to her apartment, and she doesn’t have much short-term memory. She can’t even remember if someone visited her 10 minutes ago. But she’s not gone yet.

I know she’s not going to get better. Her memory is gone. Her apartment is gone. She can’t take care of herself and she won’t be able to take care of herself again. Her things have just been sitting in storage for a couple of months. But I still can’t help feeling weird about rustling through her things and picking at the remains for a momento or two.



Downtown with the girls

Posted by barb on Dec 31, 2006 in Random Thoughts

After we went through the Mary Poppins exhibit, we stopped at the gift shop for some gingerbread cookies (which you can smell all the way through the exhibit). I sat down with Kira while Andrew went to tell Mom and Dad (who had Sofia) where we had gone. I gave Kira one of the gingerbread men, and she said to me, “He’s going to run away.” I replied, “Maybe you should eat his head off…that ought to do it. Or you could eat his feet, then he couldn’t run.” So she popped his head off, and then proceeded to tear him up into three strips – one with the feet, one with the arms, and a mid-section. She shared some of the strips with Jo, and nibbled happily at the cookie. Later, she gave the cookie’s head to my Dad, and said that the gingerbread man was going to run away, but she took his head off so he couldn’t. Oh great, I’m going to be blamed as the aunt who taught her niece to tear the heads off of cookies so they can’t run away.

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Dad’s home

Posted by barb on Aug 1, 2006 in Random Thoughts

After being lost for a little while Sunday, Dad’s okay and he’s home now. (He was lost when he checked out of the hospital Sunday and checked into a hotel without telling anyone where he was going. And, of course, his cell phone had discharged while he was in the hospital, so we couldn’t catch him that way.) Anyway, he flew home yesterday morning (first class, no less!), and is now home with Mom.

In some good news, he does not have an aortic aneurysm, so it was “just” a heart attack. (Yes, we know a heart attack is serious, and I don’t mean to belittle it, but at least he doesn’t have an aneurysm on top of that.)

Now I’m just going to enjoy my time in Boston…the first day of the meeting went well, and I’ll eventually write up the meeting over at Galaxy Girl. Oh, and obviously I do have internet — I’m even on the Harvard wireless.. hee hee hee. So things may not be completely quiet here over the week.

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