Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Miss Her

I write a popular blog but I hate writing about myself. It is the most difficult writing of all - give me a snack food to review any day.

Until Ann's death, I didn't realize how much she impacted me. Which surprised me since I had been anticipating this death for a couple months.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to say good bye, and tell her what she meant to me. I drove 15 hours to say, "Thank you for all you have given to me." and, if you knew her, you can guess what she said back to me.

"Thank YOU for all you have given to ME."

I know it isn't a contest, but I still think she gave me more than I could have ever given her. She helped me to live life more fully - to grab each day. She shared my children, and I think she may have loved my husband more than I do :) (she just LOVED his accent)

I wish she could have been here longer (many more minutes).

Just One More Minute

My oldest son Aidan and I share a tradition which I care deeply about. I am not sure when it started, but I am at times dismayed by the inevitable end of this tradition.

On the rare evenings when I am home at the boys' bedtime, we read books together as a family. After everyone has had a turn reading, Connor likes to go to his room and have Kate rub his back as he drifts off to sleep. I stay with Aidan and we chat for a bit. After a few moments I will say to Aidan, "Alright son, give me a smooch. It's time to go to sleep." Aidan invariably looks up at me at this point and asks, "Just one more minute, Dad?"

Perhaps it was an inexplicable sense of the impending tragedy that the next day would bring, for when Aidan made this request on Sunday night, I was gripped by it in a way that I had never been before.

I realized that I too wanted "just one more minute."

It was as though I was being devoured by the sense that each minute that I had spent with my mom had been precious, and that they were slipping away.

She passed away on Monday, 7/26/2010. As I watched her take her final breaths, I fought the overwhelming temptation to ask, "Just one more minute, Mom?"

Just one more minute to see you smile.
Just one more minute to hear you laugh.
Just one more minute to be encouraged by you.
Just one more minute to be believed in by you.
Just one more minute to admire you.
Just one more minute for you to love my wife and boys.
Just one more minute to love you.
Just one more minute to be loved by you.

The crushing reality is that just one more minute would never do. That is why Aidan asks night in and night out. He is yet to be satisfied. I know that I would never be satisfied with just one more minute with her. I too would ask again and again.

I am comforted by the beauty of the last minute. She was surrounded by her family. She had spent the previous evening and the morning breathing laboriously. And then my beautiful Aunt Marilyn, a woman that my mom admired and loved beyond explanation, began to read to her. These are the words that Marilyn read:

In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him. What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it. A man came, sent by God. His name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He was not the light, he was to bear witness to the light. The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world. He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognise him. He came to his own and his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself. The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. John witnesses to him. He proclaims: 'This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.' Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received -- one gift replacing another, for the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known. This was the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?' He declared, he did not deny but declared, 'I am not the Christ.' So they asked, 'Then are you Elijah?' He replied, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' He answered, 'No.' So they said to him, 'Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?' So he said, 'I am, as Isaiah prophesied: A voice of one that cries in the desert: Prepare a way for the Lord. Make his paths straight!' Now those who had been sent were Pharisees,
25 and they put this question to him, 'Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the Prophet?' John answered them, 'I baptise with water; but standing among you -- unknown to you-- is the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandal.' This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising. The next day, he saw Jesus coming towards him and said, 'Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. It was of him that I said, "Behind me comes one who has passed ahead of me because he existed before me." I did not know him myself, and yet my purpose in coming to baptise with water was so that he might be revealed to Israel.' And John declared, 'I saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven and rest on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is to baptise with the Holy Spirit." I have seen and I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.' The next day as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus went past, and John looked towards him and said, 'Look, there is the lamb of God.'
37 And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, 'What do you want?' They answered, 'Rabbi' -- which means Teacher -- 'where do you live?' He replied, 'Come and see'; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour. One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and say to him, 'We have found the Messiah' -- which means the Christ-- and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas' -- which means Rock. The next day, after Jesus had decided to leave for Galilee, he met Philip and said, 'Follow me.' Philip came from the same town, Bethsaida, as Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.' Nathanael said to him, 'From Nazareth? Can anything good come from that place?' Philip replied, 'Come and see.' When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, 'There, truly, is an Israelite in whom there is no deception.' Nathanael asked, 'How do you know me?' Jesus replied, 'Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.' Nathanael answered, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.' Jesus replied, 'You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. You are going to see greater things than that.' And then he added, 'In all truth I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of man.'

While Marilyn read, my mom's breathing eased, she found comfort, and she let go. It was beautiful.

I don't remember a lot of what followed, aside from the overwhelming sense of desolation. I do, however, remember my uncle Mike saying, "When I think of Annie's story, I think it's a success story, due in large part to the people in this room."

Of that there is no doubt. Her story is a success story. And I know that after hearing it told, or reflecting on it, I will always want just one more minute with her.

I love you mom.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


As the weeks have passed and the reality of my mother's impending death has settled densely upon my chest, I cannot help but be aware of the fact that, for most, life simply goes on. The paradoxical reality of a well-wisher expressing regret and fellowship in your misery one day and the next musing on the mundane is almost too duplicitous to endure. The most distressing aspect of this is that I have been guilty of this opprobrious insensitivity in the past, and there are not sufficient words to express my profound regret. Perhaps most of us are not capable of the type of solidarity needed to truly be a party to the overwhelming grief of another until we are faced with devastating grief of our own. So it goes.

As with any good generalization, there are numerous exceptions. For those of you who don't know Ken Morgan, my mom's husband, allow me to reveal to you the epitome of just such an exception.

It would be useful here to report that Ken and I have always enjoyed an implicit affection for each other based on our mutual love of my mother. Useful, yes. Truthful? Certainly not. Our relationship began somewhat precariously.

When I was 11 years old, my mom officially began to raise my sister and me on her own. The reality is that she had been raising us on her own for several years prior to that. After her divorce, my mom worked three jobs to afford my sister and me the opportunity to stay in Wheaton and complete our schooling with our friends. I doubt if she intended deliberately to become my hero, my model for proper living, but she did. And as each year blended into the next, my admiration for her expanded and multiplied. As any of us who have survived the rigors of adolescence can appreciate, many times I had shoddy methods of paying her back for all of her sacrifices. However, despite the many vices that I battled during these years, my love for her could never be questioned or minimized, and the same, thankfully, can be said of her love for me.

(This is the point where the dramatic music begins in my head, signaling a change in the tone of our story. Not quite the "Da-dah...Da-dah...Da-dah" from Jaws, but something similar)

Enter Ken. The first man to infiltrate my mom's life that had not carried with him an assortment of self destructive behaviors that he would be all to willing to share with her. The first man that actually liked who she was sober, and encouraged her to remain that way. The first man that had the courage to pursue and fall in love with her despite the blatant disapproval of her son. I know what you're thinking. The exact same thing I was thinking when Ken arrived.

"Where the hell does this guy get off," right?

Alright. So you're probably not thinking that. Thankfully, I am not thinking that either...any more.

My discontentment with the genesis of their relationship was rooted in the natural guardianship that developed in me over my mother. I had witnessed first hand the destruction that was her marriage. I had observed the lineup of nincompoops who had tried to win her favor by feeding her demons. And now, irrepressible in his pursuit of her was Ken. I was able to distinguish, almost immediately by the glimmer in her eye, that Ken possessed a capability that I had not seen for many years and that scared me to death. My mom had fallen in love with Ken, and in so doing had bestowed upon him the potential to break her heart. And I would be damned if I was going to let that happen without a fight.

I suppose I've learned a little something about perseverance from Ken, too.

The most concise way to describe what happened next and brings us to today would be simply to tell you that these two people, my mom and Ken, loved and continue to love each other more than most. They have made an art out of encouraging and caring for each other. They have learned the intricacies that exist in each other, and valued them. Despite each others flaws, undeterred by each others weaknesses, they have complimented each other perfectly.

I could not have asked for a greater gift for my mother. I could never tell Ken how thankful I am that he endured my dissatisfaction and pursued her. Her life was never better than it was when her soul was affixed to his. The years that they have shared have been truly remarkable and we have all reaped the benefits.

I happen to have the amazing good fortune of being married to a positively awesome woman who is also the epitome of an exception to the generalization made above. I was in our room earlier, and I came across some photos that she has been collecting of my mom. She was preparing to put these into a collection for me. What struck me about these photos of my mom is that Ken is in damn near every one of them. By her side. Smiling that genuine smile of his that transforms his face into little more than teeth and glasses. And there are pictures of Ken at our wedding. And there are pictures of Ken at our holiday gatherings. And there are pictures of Ken at our boy's birthday parties.

The photos that moved me the most, however, are the photos of Ken holding each of my sons mere hours after they were born. The affection that is present on his face in those photos is not something that can be manufactured. It is genuine. And it struck me that, at some indistinguishable point along the way, I finally realized what I had been so vigorously fighting all of those years ago. Ken is family. Ken is Grandpa. Ken is a man that I admire. Ken is a man that I love.

As these days have progressed and Ken has been handed more and more responsibility for my mother's care, I have cherished him more and more. Ken has never complained. He has never asked for help. He has loved my mother fiercely and has eased her pain. What a joy it has been to see the same glimmer in her eye when she sees him today that I witnessed years ago. For now I realize that, in Ken's care, my mother was never vulnerable to having her heart broken. She was allowing him to mend her heart and he did, and then some.

In a rare moment of emotion recently, Ken related to me that after a tragedy befell him in the past, he felt as though he was losing a piece of his future. His voice cracked and he continued, saying, "In losing your mother I am losing my whole life."

I certainly understand that feeling, but Ken will not get off that easy.

After all Ken, there are pictures of you to be taken at our boys' weddings. And there are pictures of you to be taken at our holiday gatherings. And there are pictures of you to be taken at our boys' birthday parties.

You are family. You are Grandpa. You are a man that we admire. You are a man that we love.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Thanks to the generosity of The Melton Family and Faye Bernhardt, we have now raised $600 toward the realization of Ann's Tree. That's 25% of the way there! This is encouraging progress and Ann could not be more touched. Thank you all.

In lieu of flowers, Ann would prefer a donation be made to Ann's Tree so that we may honor her in this way.

Quickly, Ann is now home under hospice care. Ken is working tirelessly to ensure her comfort. Sher has been in great spirits and has spent her days laughing and having a great time. What else would we expect, right?

Thank you all for loving my mom.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Elephant Salve

Thursday the nightmare began in earnest.

We sat in my mom's room at CDH awaiting the arrival of a representative from a hospice care company. She was officially charged with explaining to us how, from this point forward, non-curative care would be given to my mom and also with ensuring Ken signed the phlegmatic paperwork in all of the appropriate places. From my perspective, the function of this meeting was to announce the beginning of the end. We all heard that message clearly.

Prior to the hospice nurse's arrival and anticipating the meeting, the mood in the room was somber. Sensing this, my mom started to petition my Uncle Mike to tell us stories. Now, my opinion may be biased because I esteem him so, but my Uncle Mike can tell a story like no one I've ever met. I imagine Twain, Hemingway and Fitzgerald enthralled and laughing right along with us as my Uncle tells his stories. I have told him that he should write a book.

After entertaining us with stories of drag races that ended with his rival's car firmly planted on the steps of some poor woman's house, my mom requested that he tell us about "Elephant Salve." At first he didn't seem sure as to what my mom was talking about. But then his face brightened and his story began.

He told us how my Grandfather, Bill Chapin, trusted wholeheartedly in the remedying power of Petro-Carbo Salve. A precursor to Neosporin, my Grandfather apparently spread the greasy cure-all on whatever ailments presented themselves, big or small. When asked why it was referred to a "Elephant Salve," my Uncle Mike giggled and said, "I don't know. Maybe there was a picture of an elephant on the tin. Or, maybe in the Chapin household, it was believed that the stuff could fix anything, even something as terrible as being stepped on by an elephant."

Uncle Mike has always been great at communicating the truly extraordinary points of his stories. He finished the story about "Elephant Salve" by telling us that, when my Grandfather passed away, Mike found a his trusty tin of Petro-Carbo Salve in a drawer next to his bed. Mike took the tin and has it to this day, admiring fondly the traces of my Grandfather's fingers that still remain in the residual salve.

This story could not have come at a more appropriate time for me. I have found it nearly impossible to grasp the reality of what is happening. Life is not delivering an outcome for me that I believe I am capable of handling. In many ways, I feel like a giant elephant is crushing me beneath his heel.

When circumstances in my life had threatened to leave me shattered and hopeless, I have persevered by relying heavily on my mom. She has been my "Elephant Salve."

My sincere desire is to become the type of person who is clever enough to utilize the lessons that I've learned from my mom and become "Elephant Salve" to my wife and my son's. I can think of no better way to honor her.

And as I see the joy with which Connor hits the ice and learns hockey or the creativity displayed by Aidan as he works on his latest drawing or Lego project, I see the traces of my mom's fingers in the residual lives of this family tree. And I am so thankful. I am so proud.

Thank you, Mom.