All posts by Chris

Zach's Dad

perfect is the enemy of the good

I’ve been busy lately, but the truth of the matter is that I just haven’t sat down to write posts much over the last few months. I realized this morning that I’ve been waiting for that perfect moment when I can clear my head and concentrate on writing something worthwhile.

I want to give my readers – few though they may be – value for their time. With very few exceptions, I am proud of the writing that I’ve put into this blog over the past 2 1/2 years. It may be that by writing in less than ideal circumstances I may not write up to as high a standard.

So, this is a try.

Dad is gone. Mom is alone in her – their – house. Sepi and I are going down today. There are some more insurance papers to work through but mostly it is just to hang. She is busy, she says, but the nights are the hardest. Last week I went down by myself and ended up staying to about 9 pm. At the point of leaving, the fact of her alone-ness at night in that big house hit me. I almost offered to stay, but I realized that she had already been alone for several nights since Dad’s death and it was a fact that wasn’t going to change.

It’s Presidents’ Day so no band tonight. SoundBox starts tomorrow. Life continues.

time and sadness

It’s been ten days since Dad died. Many people have expressed their condolences to me. No doubt many more have done so to Mom and my siblings.

Yet we’re all pretty dry eyed and matter of fact about it – at least in my company. We Wood’s are famously even tempered but this is our father, for god’s sake!

So I’ve been thinking about why. ‘He had a good life.’ ‘He was ready.’ ‘He had been in a long decline and wasn’t really who he had been for a long time.’

That last is kind of my best answer. He really died a long time ago. The weird part is that it wasn’t a clearly defined event like last week. The breathing stops, the heart stops – he’s dead.

But that begs the question of who ‘he’ is. Preparing for the funeral, Tom created a slideshow for people to watch. We started with 20 or 30 pictures but it quickly grew to nearly 100. That was Tuesday. As of yesterday, it was up to nearer 150. We’ll probably keep working on it right up to when we have to leave for the church Monday.

What was interesting to me was that the exercise brought back into my mind the man who raised me – without doubt the most influential man in my life. Over the last four years that man has slowly slipped away.

I can’t help but contrast Dad’s death with the death of Zach. Two people who were as close to me as anyone could be and yet my reactions couldn’t have been more different. The circumstances were vastly different, of course, so that must be why.

The time that has passed since Zach’s death has muted my feelings. Life goes on. I still get angry about the actions of the two drivers and will approach the DA once more about reopening the case. But the overwhelming sadness that I felt for months afterwards hasn’t shown up for Dad.

The funeral is Monday. We’ll see how that goes.

Norm

I met a lot of new people last spring as Sepi and I were beginning our life together. One of them was Norm. Norm was married to a woman who had been City Manager when Sepi was Mayor.

Norm’s posture was quite stooped over in a way that reminded me of Dad so I started to talk to him about it. Unlike Dad’s, his condition had come up rather suddenly the previous fall. As recently as a year previous, he had been in robust health and was quite active.

I don’t remember if he knew at the time what it was. More likely he just didn’t tell me that it was ALS.

Norm died last week.

I only saw Norm one other time. It was at a birthday party a few weeks later. In that short time he had deteriorated markedly. He was having great difficulty holding his head up and speaking. In that first conversation, though, we bonded in a mysterious way. When Sepi shared the news of Norm’s death with me, I got choked up in a way that I didn’t with Dad.

Sepi talked to Robin yesterday. She said Robin told her how Norm had read my blog regularly and how much he had enjoyed it.

Thank you, Norm! Your friendship was brief but brilliant. Rest in Peace.

Dad’s passage

Dad died yesterday morning. He hadn’t eaten nor taken water for several days so it was not unexpected. At some level, we are all relieved. The phrase I used on FaceBook was ‘His torment is over.’

‘Torment’ might be a bit overstated. He never complained of pain, although in truth his ability to communicate was pretty much entirely gone. He would sometimes react to our attempts to move him by making a grunt of pain. Towards the end of last week he was not sleeping well and twitching a lot.

‘Torment’ could also be applied to Mom’s experience. It was bad enough to be losing her husband of nearly 66 years but her home was being invaded by not only her children but her children’s spouses, hospice nurses and technicians and other helpers and visitors. She will have to endure that for a while longer – ten of us were there yesterday – but hopefully she will be able to sleep better. We’re back to the dilemma we had with Dad: how do we respect their independence yet give them help when needed? This is especially difficult when they say they don’t want the help.

So, we muddle through as always. We do it for love, which helps.

Mom called me at about 5 with the news. The phone ringing woke me from a deep sleep and my original reaction was irritation. I had been getting a lot of sales calls lately so that was my first thought. When I saw ‘Mom’ on the phone, though, I knew what it was about.

We got down to Santa Clara about 7. Tom and Mary Lou had been staying over so they had been with Mom. The hospice nurse had come over right away and done some minimal clean up. He was lying in the bed as he had been but he was still. His mouth had a slight smile, we all thought.

Teresa and Jane got there a little later. Teresa wanted to clean him more thoroughly so she did that. Mom and Dad had made arrangements long ago with Trident for cremation and they were coming at ten so we all took some time before that for reflection and community.

The Trident people were respectful but professional. They were in and out of the house in less than ten minutes. We were left with memories only.

So the rest of the day was about memories. Mary got there about 1. Julian and Lisa came. Sarah came. We all sat around and ate and reminisced. We talked about funeral arrangements and other quotidian things. There were some tears but a lot of laughter.

death watch

I’ve had this title in my mind for a couple of weeks now. Like many other things, I’ve seen it before but now I am experiencing it. It’s strange that after a lifetime of trying to preserve health – holding death at bay, as it were – we are allowing death to have its way. It’s also strange that I am personifying death. That’s what humans do, though, to try to understand what is fundamentally not understandable.

Well, anyway, death came to Dad yesterday morning. I’m going to try make a separate post about that. This is a snippet I wrote on my phone Sunday that speaks to the watch part.

It’s Sunday January 20th and the family is gathering at Mom and Dad’s to celebrate Sarah and Jack’s birthdays. Dad is at the end, though. He hasn’t had any food for several days and very little water. Teresa and Mom gave him a small dose of morphine this morning. Previously the heaviest pain medication was Tylenol. He had been very restless the 24 hours previously. He was sleeping soundly when Sepi and I got here about 12:30. He woke up a little about 1. He seemed to recognize Mary and tried to respond to her. Now (2 pm) he’s sleeping again but his breathing is labored. He sort of half clears his throat every minute or so. Mom was sitting with him but I relieved her so she could eat lunch. Mom went to the church yesterday to make arrangements for the funeral Mass and reception. She is definitely ready for this to be over.

Dad

The other news this new year is about Dad. The week before Thanksgiving he was out with Mom and tried to get out of the car on his own and fell. Mom had gone into the store with the understanding – her understanding – that Dad would wait for her.

It was a perfect example of how we are all living in the past to some extent with Dad. He thought – as near as we could later find out – that he was to go in as well. He got out of the car and promptly fell. A passer by saw him and called 911. His injuries were not severe but in the course of examination at the ER, a chest X-ray was taken revealing a golf ball sized ‘mass’ in his lung.

Normally a biopsy would be conducted to verify what this ‘mass’ was but neither Dad nor any other member of the family was in favor of it. It would be very stressful and the likelihood was that it would in fact be cancerous. That begged the question of what would be the next step. Surgery, radiation, or chemo? No, the consensus was to let it go.

At the same time, the doctors said there were some ‘abnormalities’ in his blood work. My own view of the progression of information was a bit skewed as I was busy working during those first days but about a week later I asked Mom what she had been told.

Leukemia.

The doctors recommended we begin hospice care. It took a while for me to figure out what this exactly means. Evidently, this implies that life expectancy is 6 months. Kaiser brought a hospital bed and some medicines and supplies to the house but the extra care Mom needed was not part of the deal. She had to call providers and set up a schedule.

Of course all of the children were involved in all of this. My own help was minimal but all of my siblings made major contributions to the changes. Teresa, Mary and Tim are in the medical field in various ways and were able to understand what the doctors were saying. We all came to the house and filled in the cracks of care.

Mom has gone from having help 4 hours a day 3 days a week to 12 hours a day 5 days a week. Only a small part of the cost is covered by insurance. To save money, we sibs have promised to cover the weekends.

Dad’s only indication that he is in pain is when he is being moved out of the bed. He doesn’t say anything but we notice the strain in his face. As far as I know the only medication he is taking is a stool softener. He still uses the walker to get down the hall to the living room. He likes to watch football on TV. He eats meals in the dining room. He listens to the conversation around him and occasionally tries to say something but he cannot construct sentences any more.

Mom had his favorite priest come and say Mass for him. He also got the Sacrament of the Sick. I believe this is the same as what we used to call Extreme Unction, or Last Rites. Mary actually got him out to Church on Christmas Eve which he enjoyed.

As for the future, death awaits us all. Dad is likely closer than the rest of us. We are doing our best to make his remaining days as comfortable as possible.

news

Why haven’t there been more postings this past fall, you may ask? Some of the issues after the wedding I’ve already written about. My boss at Davies took a 4 1/2 week vacation and I was the principal relief. Then December, always busy at Davies, happened.

The biggest reason, though, is the water leak we had on our kitchen on Nov 12th. The poly line from the sink to the refrigerator burst. Sepi was home and was able to turn off the water but the flooring around the refrigerator was soaked.

She called the insurance and the mitigators came with large fans and a dehumidifier that ran day and night. They put up a big tent arrangement around the kitchen area. There was a big zipper for the only entrance/exit. Around this time was the fire near Oroville that sent heavy smoke into the Bay Area so we couldn’t open our windows.

After a few days of this, Sepi called the insurance and told them that we couldn’t live under those conditions. They agreed and we moved out to a local hotel.

In some ways it was nice, but it was not good for writing in blogs. I only access this blog from my desktop computer at home and now I was only in the house for a few minutes at a time.

So, that’s the main reason. As of three days ago, we are back sleeping in our home. The kitchen is repaired. We are still looking through boxes and putting things away. Work has slowed just a bit. I had two days off this week.

a new year

Well. Since the beginning of September, I find I have written only 5 posts on this blog. That’s four months, for those of you scoring at home. I will do better this year.

I think about writing often, though. Usually, it’s while driving to work. Since moving to Brisbane I’ve been taking a SAMTRANS bus into town some of the time. I get off at Mission and Ninth and walk the four blocks to Davies. At Van Ness, I usually have to wait for the light to cross. Cars and trucks whiz past seemingly at only an arm’s length away.

How fast are they going?, I think. 40 miles an hour? 50 miles an hour? 53? Sometimes I think about how it would feel if one of them swerved and hit me. I usually stand behind the traffic light pole just in case. The sidewalk is not very wide at that particular spot. I look at the drivers’ faces as the speed past. Often they are hunched over the steering wheels. Their tension is evident. Where are they going in such a hurry? Work, mostly, I think.

I am fortunate in that there would be no bad consequences if I was late to work – once in a while. Like once or twice a year. I generally allow enough time to get to work calmly. No work is important enough to have an accident.

RIP Dennis

Dennis D. died yesterday. He was 65. Dennis was a member of the Symphony stage crew for more than 25 years until his retirement in July 2016. Here’s a picture of all of us at the end of the load out on his last day. Dennis is sitting at the piano.

I first got to know Dennis when I worked with him at the Opera House in the 1980s. He was on the Props crew. I didn’t see him again until he came with the Symphony to the Mondavi Center at UC Davis around 2006 when I was the Local 50 Business Agent. The Symphony always hired a Union crew there. We had dinner together and had a good time reminiscing.

After I came back to San Francisco, I eventually started working more regularly with the Symphony at Davies Hall and was glad to see Dennis again. Despite my many years of stagehand experience, I was uneducated in the ways of the Symphony. Dennis helped me both directly by instruction and indirectly by example. There are a million details in dealing with a Symphony orchestra and Dennis knew all of them. I noticed that all the other stagehands would come to Dennis whenever they were stuck and couldn’t remember how to do some odd thing that hadn’t been done for a long time. Dennis always had the answer.

Even though Dennis was a life long smoker, he always had plenty of energy and seemed in good health. Two months ago, he went to the doctor with pain in his hip. It turned out to be a large cancerous mass and there were others throughout his body. He was determined to live until his daughter’s wedding, scheduled for New Years’ Eve, but it was not to be.

Our friend and colleague Arno was bereft last night. ‘Why do the good ones die young?’, he asked. I had no answer for him. All I could think of was Zach, but it would do no good to mention that.

Dennis, like Zach, lived life to the fullest. We should honor their memory by doing the same.

numbers

This past week I was going to write a post on numbers: 3, for years since Zach died. 53, for speed of the truck that killed him. I still want to write to the DA and try to get the case reopened. Every time I stand on a sidewalk and watch traffic speeding by I think of how fast they are going. Sometimes I estimate they are going about 50 and I think how it would feel to be slammed against their windshield.

53 is pretty fucking fast for a city street and it’s no wonder Zach was killed instantly. When I went back to Baton Rouge last January, very few cars were going that fast along that little stretch. I think both drivers were driving recklessly and should be cited appropriately.

But I haven’t written that yet. Sepi reminded me that I had told her last summer I was going to let it go. I don’t remember that. I just remember that i want to try one more time.

Meanwhile, Dad was out last Wednesday with Mom and fell when she wasn’t looking. 911 was called and they spent the afternoon in the ER. Blood tests and X-rays showed no serious damage to his bones but revealed a mass in his lung. The doctor say she’s 99% sure it is cancer. Te be sure involves a biopsy and the consensus is to not do that.

Coincidentally, Tim came to visit Thursday so we were able to get 4 of the 6 of us in the same room as Mom and Dad to discuss what to do. Dad didn’t say much of anything. We’re not sure how much he understands but he really doesn’t want to spend another afternoon like Wednesday.

The doctor talked of hospice which evidently can be triggered by a six month time frame. Now we’re all coming to terms with the likelihood that, instead of wasting slowly away from Alzheimers, Dad will be dead much sooner.

Everyone was pretty calm Friday when were all discussing this but I feel sure that we are all in some kind of denial.

We will all gather again on Thanksgiving. We will rejoice in what we have and what we have had.