Letters to F.A.

My in-laws felt pretty strongly that Z and Q shouldn't come for Daddy's memorial.  As memorials go, his was more of a celebration of his life rather than a lament of his death but I could see where they were coming from.  At any rate, I didn't feel strongly enough (or possibly strong enough?) to fight them on it.

Even so, I felt like the kids needed some kind of ritual to mark F.A.'s passing and say their good-byes.  (My dad named himself F.A. - short for Favorite Ancestor - when I said that 'Jefe' (spanish for boss) was not a suitable grandpa name.)

Almost four years ago, I lost my friend Heather to scleroderma.  I had just had Q, so I was unable to attend her funeral.  Heather requested a balloon release at her funeral.  I released a balloon in her honor from Small Town.  It made a real impression on Z.  Even at two, she seemed to really grasp that I was sad because Heather had gone to heaven and wouldn't be coming back.

I figured this was as good a way as any for the kids to tall F.A. good-bye.  We drew/colored pictures and wrote notes to F.A.   We tied the notes to helium balloons and released them into the sky.  I told the kids we were sending letters to F.A. in heaven.

We watched the balloons float up into a perfectly clear blue sky until we couldn't see them any more. 

Good-bye F.A.  You were a great grandfather, father and man.  We miss you.



My father was the best man I ever knew. His early years on a ranch in west Texas taught him the value of hard work. His education in Civil Engineering and Aeronautics put his intelligence and creativity to good use. He joked that he could build an outhouse on the moon.

A devoted husband, his 50-year marriage to his high school sweetheart revealed his softer side. He was a loving and loyal spouse. A man with high standards, he expected a lot from his three daughters, and was endlessly proud of all their accomplishments. He was relentlessly fair; all, especially his children, were treated equally.

Thirty years of Air Force service, as both a pilot and an engineer, showed him to be both patriotic and disciplined. He returned to college in his retirement, earning an MBA. His lifelong love of learning fit perfectly with his passion for computers. From his earliest TRS-80 to powerful PCs he built himself, he continued learning new skills his entire life.

In 1992, he joined the Rotary Club. In Rotary, he found an organization that lived up to his high ethical standards. While in Rotary, he was a driving force behind his club's Sporting Clay shoot, which raises thousands of dollars for the Boys and Girls Club of America. He developed and maintained web sites for the his Rotary Club, his Rotary district, Theater Victoria, and Red Cross.

Diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in 1997, he developed complications over the summer and died Tuesday, October 12, 2010 after a valiant fight. He is survived by his wife, his daughters, two grandchildren and two sisters.  He was 72.

A memorial was held on Saturday, October 16, 2010. In lieu of flowers, we requested donations to Rotary’s efforts to eradicate Polio.  Even in his death, he is making the world a better place.

He will be missed.


He's a Fighter

My dad is sick.  Really sick.  Like put-your-affairs-in-order sick.  I haven't written much about it because it didn't seem like it was my story to tell.  Now?  My head is so full of it that I think I need to write about it just to relieve the pressure.

Thirteen years ago, my dad was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.  If you have to have Leukemia, this is the kind to have.  It has few symptoms and you usually die of something else before it gets you.  And for a long time, this was true for my dad.

Then his white blood cell count started getting crazy high, so they did chemo.  The chemo did just what it was supposed to do and all was well.  For a little while.

A year or so later, he had to have chemo again.  And since then, the intervals between treatments have gotten shorter and shorter.  Until, at last, the treatment triggered a cascade of scary medical side effects that have kept him in and out of the hospital since June.

First, there was hemolytic anemia.  His already abundant white blood cells started attacking his red blood cells and eating them like Pac-Man.  He had a LOT of blood transfusions and took steroids to boost his red blood cell production.  The chemo continued.

He kept getting weaker and weaker.  Finally he took himself to the hospital on the brink of a diabetic coma.  The massive doses of steroids had caused his pancreas to shut down.  They had a hard time getting his sugar in order, but finally that was under control and Daddy started his new life as an insulin dependant diabetic.  The chemo and blood transfusions continued.

And still he kept getting weaker.  He took himself to the hospital (again) with desperate shortness of breath.  It turned out that he had multiple blood clots in his lungs.  No wonder it was hard to breathe!  He had to have a filter put into his femoral artery to screen out future clots. 

He couldn't take the regular medicines for the treatment of blood clots because his blood chemistry was so wonky, so he just had to wait for the clots to dissolve by themselves.  This left him easily tired and often out of breath.  For a 30-year military man, this was unacceptable.  The chemo was finally discontinued, but the transfusions continued.

Finally, it was decided that he needed to have his spleen removed.  The spleen is where your body destroys red blood cells, so if they removed his, his red blood cells should be able to remain ahead of the killer white blood cells.  They yanked it and he looked like he was getting better.  His blood counts were right on target and looking more and more normal.

But the further out from the surgery he got, the more tired he became.  Finally, he started having trouble working up enough energy to speak.  Though Sister K kept reporting his decline to the nurses, they kept saying, 'He's just tired from the surgery.' and 'His blood counts are normal!'  Finally, he became disoriented and stopped making any sense.  Then the medical staff started taking her seriously.

By the time they figured out that he had and infection - and no immune system to fight it - he was septic.  That means that the infection was in his blood and therefore throughout his body.  The sepsis caused his kidneys to shut down, his lungs to fill up, his pulse to speed up and his blood pressure to drop like a stone.  He has been in ICU for over a week.

In the last few days, he has made some infinitesimal improvements, but with a million different IV fluids going in and no kidney function to get it out, he has blown up like a balloon.  They put him on dialysis to lower the fluids in his body.  But dialysis lowers blood pressure and his is so scary low (even with BP increasing meds!) that they aren't able to remove as much fluid as they need to for there to be room for the medicines that could save him to go in.

We are in the world's slowest race: dialysis output v. IV fluids in.  At some point, all we are doing is prolonging his discomfort with no satisfactory ending.  We aren't there yet, but we are getting close.  At this point, Daddy is still completely lucid and able to direct his care.  So far, his iron will has been working in his favor.  I am very afraid what will happen when his will turns away from living.

I hate this.


RAW(e) Photo Competition: Girly

When I saw the theme of this week's competition, I just had to enter!  I have lots of girly photos of Z, but this one remains one of my favorites.

PS - You can play along here.

Room Mothering

A million years ago, when I was a classroom teacher, I always dreaded party days.  I taught in the 'hood and there was never any parental involvement.  So in my mind, class party = lots of extra work, 22 sugared up kids, and no help. 

With this in mind, I have always told my kids' teachers that I would be happy to help out with whatever they needed help with.  When I mentioned this to Z's kindergarten teacher, she said the position of Room Mother was open, if I was interested.  With visions of bringing in cupcakes a couple times a year, I agreed.

Then I got a note home about the Room Mother Orientation meeting.  Wait, wha...?  Orientation?  A mandatory meeting?  WTF? 

Once I got over the shock, I arranged care for Q (Thanks JC!) and gamely attended the meeting.  How bad could it be?

Let me just say, these women are hard core.  There was a bound Room Mother manual.  With tabs.

I quickly figured out that these were the type of women who would cut you over a position on the PTA.  Like something out of a Lifetime movie.  Not that any of them were anything but nice, nice, nice!  I did have a moment of high-school-like panic about being in the room with the 'popular' girls, though. 

At Z's school, the Room Mom's primary job is to set up/run a booth at the Fall Fun Day (aka: Halloween Carnival.  Shhhh!  Don't tell!).  There is fund-raising and letter writing and money collecting.  We have to find a (cheap) Christmas ornament with a place for a picture that relates to the continent our kids are studying - for the entire grade level.  Australia, in Z's case.

Luckily for me, there is another mom on the kindergarten team who makes my alpha-mom aspirations laughable.  Before the meeting was even held, she had selected our theme for Fun Day and painted a brilliant sign that looks like it came from a professional sign maker.  Wow.

I am so out of my league.