All posts by Anne Marie Harris

Gunk Had To Die

My hands are shaking as I write this. I just can’t believe it. I’ll be the first to admit that when I got home last Thursday, I realized that he was just not the same. Philip said he lost all his zest for life since Toby had gone. How could he forget his forever companion?

Despite all of this, the events of this evening still surprised me. I worked a little late and hadn’t had a chance to walk at all today. I thought I would catch up and do it all at once while Philip was out shopping. I never felt unsafe being alone in the house with Gunk, but something was different tonight.

He was listing to the side, but as I mentioned, he just hasn’t been right since Toby left. I paid it no mind, but as I stepped up onto the treadmill, I swear, he deliberately tripped me. My water bottle flew, rolling down the treadmill, spewing it’s lemony goodness along the way.

“You’re imagining things” I said to myself. I cradled Gunk in my arms and carried him to the kitchen so that I could replenish his air and water. I know it’s not much, but a small comfort to someone who’s lost his best friend.

As we passed the dishwasher, he reached out and flung another water bottle onto the floor.As this one had no contents, it shattered into a million pieces.

I left Gunk for just a second and stepped into the laundry room to get the dustpan and broom. When I returned, I realized with great dismay that Gunk had impaled himself on a kitchen knife and was letting out his last gasp of air.

Now, I know that the conspiracy theorists will be coming out of the woodwork, disbelieving that he could’ve committed this heinous act. How could he have knifed himself in the back? And he seemed so happy. But I have my proof in the note he left that says “punched continually in the face by a three-year-old… NOT GOOD!”

The 80/20 Rule

Are people good or evil? I can never tell. No matter how many times somebody is mean, it always takes me by surprise.

So I got three tickets, because there’s three of us now. There used to be four, but now we’re three, and that’s okay.

Well, one of the three — the one who is least likely to have let this happen — was not feeling well, so she stayed home. No problem, I thought.

As we walked into the bar, a very large gentleman asked me if I had any spare tickets.

– Why yes! I do!

– How much?

– Free! Happy birthday!

So we went into the very crowded bar and found a spot near the wall between two men. Unfortunately, it was only big enough for one person, then who should come up, but the very large man!

– Did you give me a free ticket?

– Why yes I did!

– Can I buy you a drink?

– I’m not drinking, but you can buy her one. Oh, also you can buy me a tonic! I think you’re going to spend about the cost of the ticket on our drinks!

After purchasing the drinks, this very friendly man, began telling me much of his life history, but he was so high, I couldn’t really understand any of it. Maybe crazy? Nope! High. I could smell it on his breath. A really nice guy. I got no sense at all that he was hitting on either of us, just trying to repay a kindness.

As I backed away from him — he was a bit of a close-talker — I bumped into the skinny-faced man. His rather old companion made quite a show of shaking his hand, using his elbow to push me away. I suppose I am dense, I did not get it. Finally the skinny-faced man tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Ma’am, I have not moved from my position, yet you are pushing into me and it is causing me to lean.”

Well we can’t have that! Not in a very crowded bar! People leaning? Where does it all end!? So I gave him a big smile, apologized, and moved away.

He continued berating me for making him lean. Again, I smiled and moved further away. The rest of the very short time that we were there was a series of harassments from his very elderly companion. At one point, he bent over and pushed his butt into my hip. At another point, he leaned up against the wall and pushed his butt into Chris’s hip while bending over, saying, “I’m not leaning, I’m tying my shoe!” then got up and high-fived his much younger companion.

I just don’t understand mean! It will never make sense to me. For me, it takes so much effort to be unkind, I don’t know why anybody opts for it. It was a crowded bar, and clearly, some people’s matter mattered more than others. If you’re thinking it was all in fun, you’ll have to trust me, it wasn’t!

So again I am struggling: are people evil or good? Dad says it’s 80/20. So I counted:

-2 jerks against …

+1 my lovely companion

+1 the very large man

+2 the jerks’ beautiful female companions, mesmerizing me with their dance

+1 the doorman — who recognized me as the wife of an incredibly talented man

+1 the husband, texting me throughout, promised to punch the jerk in his … oh never mind!

+1 our missing third, suffering a coughing fit at the other end of a FaceTime

+1 the establishment’s owner, one of the beautifullest humans ever invented.

So, yeah, Dad! 80/20 holds water! I know you didn’t invent or anything, but good call, invoking that rule.

So this morning, as I’m musing over the strange night — equally annoyed and amused, but mostly warm and fuzzy, due to my stunning companion — the doorbell rang. An adorable old man — with the exception of last night’s jerk, I do have a soft spot for old guys — this fella at my door was 77 and looked almost exactly like the Late Great Uncle Fred. So, of course, I invited him in, made him some coffee, discussed Jesus with him for about an hour, gave him a cookie, and sent him on his way. No conversions occurred, but he restored my faith in humanity, just in the nick of time and caused my focus to turn from the 20 to the 80.

Now I know that it is trite to say “be kind”, but it’s so easy! Being mean seems like so much work! I mean, if it was fun, wouldn’t they smile once in a while?. And to suffer an unkindness at the establishment of one of my favorite humans and the sunshiniest-of-all felt so wrong! It sounds trite, silly, overly sensitive — you may be right — but again, I choose to turn my thoughts to the Jesus side of things, those that reflect his light like the moon on this sometimes very dark night!

#BeThe80 #ChooseKind

The Perfect Shoes

Sara bought these shoes from Plato’s closet. Cute as hell, but she is not a heels girl and I am, so she offered them to me right before my trip up to Pittsburgh to help with dad after his stroke. Was it a good life choice to bring them as my single pair of shoes for a trip for which I did not buy a return ticket? Maybe no. Did I daily steal medical tape to cover my poor little tootsies to keep them from bleeding? Yes, but only for a week. At the end of the week, I had built up some nice attractive calluses that would keep them from bleeding anymore.

So imagine my devastation when, one day, Dad asked, “Why do you wear those shoes? They’re terribly awkward!” He did not stop there, he went on to pick apart the rest of my wardrobe of that day, but the shoes comment really bit, because he had no idea the pain that I had endured for this particular fashion statement.

I wish that I could tell you that I’m the type of person that could just “walk it off”, but I’m not. As explained before, I’m a bit much! A lot of people don’t care for the high maintenance, but, as a narcissist, I find myself adorable and terribly amusing and so worth the effort. And Dad used to, I think. I’m not sure if I changed or he did, but it seems like I really annoy him now. That’s OK, I suppose. As the meme goes, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and Lisa was a terrific buffer. Statler without Waldorf is, well, annoying and this lonely existence is my fate.

So imagine my shock and hysteria when a man at least as old as Dad stopped me in the grocery store to tell me how “neat” my shoes are. I grinned like a Cheshire cat the rest of my time in there. People in Pittsburgh don’t grin, so I think I really stood out, but I felt like somebody was looking out for my silly old feelings that the stoic side of all of us thinks I should ignore.

A few days later, a nurse belted from down the hall, “Oh my God! Tell me those shoes aren’t the cutest thing!” I told her what had happened with Dad, told her that I shouldn’t be taking fashion advice from a 76-year-old man, and she said, “Those folks up on 3 (dementia unit) have plenty of advice for me!”

Now this morning at church, a man my father’s age, probably somebody he knows, stopped me on the way out because I was wearing flip-flops, “Where are those cute shoes that you’ve been wearing that I love so much!?”

I don’t mean to illustrate the shortcomings of my earthly father, because he is a good, good father, but more to show that, just like Simon Peter affirmed the Lord 3 times, so has my Heavenly Father affirmed me. Yes, shoes are silly, but in my heart, it’s bigger than that. I see so many struggling with faith, but it takes such little effort to see the beauty and the miracles around us every single day and the impact of the smallest kindness on a stranger. And in my simple silly little mind, God talks to me through shoes and for that, I will be eternally (I hope) grateful!

All the world’s a stage…

I’ve been thinking about the stages of grief so much this week and it’s helping me to cope, not only to understand what I’m going through, but to put my family experience into perspective. What would normally be a minor dysfunction is magnified in the context of grief and the very people that you’ve always relied upon cannot hold you up because they themselves are barely treading water.

I’ve always heard about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Denial is in believing that nothing is wrong. It is denial that tells us that Dad is going to fully recover and everything is going to go back to the way that it was. Unfortunately, as Bill Deasy says, “now he’s returning to the reservoir”. I hope that, as Jason once said, “that day is far away from this one“, but near or far, it is clear that we need to prepare.

“Life in the long run ain’t never a long enough one, we wanna pocket it like lint, like gold, and it’s a real short story with its turned up pages, all its characters waiting in line to unfold” (Leslie Smith, “Midnight Pirouette”)

The next stage is anger. Unfortunately, in my experience, anger is the usual drug of choice, as it makes us feel safe and justified and righteous.

I’m not really big on the bargaining thing. I mean, I did all the things: I bought us matching dresses, coconut water, every wish, eyelashes, birthday candles, shooting stars… Lis still died. My prayer now as I drift off to sleep is “whatever, Dude!” He knows he’s got me in a stranglehold: “if you ever wanna see your sister again…”. I get it! We’ll stick to the plan! As a project manager, that speaks to me. I suppose that’s a kind of bargaining, so cool! I get it!

Depression. It’s so much more than sadness, the thought of Dad not being at the other end of the phone. It is when I pity myself that I feel most lost. When I focus on what he needs, I’m okay. I can function. I think this maybe a source of codependency … my feelings are too hurty, so let me focus on yours. Whatever it takes to keep the black dog away!

Acceptance I’ve never mastered. Dad and I were talking about a time we were delivering Holy Communion to a nursing home, I said “we have to see Mrs. (so-and-so)” whom I loved very much and Dad said, “oh, she died” very casually and the look of devastation on my face took him off-guard. He apologized, of course, and gave me a minute to catch my breath. The thing with the ladies was that I’d grieve terribly for about a month, then “forget” them. Oh, sweet mercy! I guess that’s a kind of acceptance.

I’m seeing now that there is a similar theory that adds “shock” as number one and “testing” as number six.

Shock is that initial stage in which the griever’s disbelief causes paralysis. I can surely relate! I blame it on my anxiety, which was at such a high level that I couldn’t act. It was very similar to that feeling that I would get when I was drunk (not for many many years now) in which the room would feel as if it were spinning and the only way that I could slow it down was to be perfectly still. I felt that again when I begin to experience vertigo a few years ago. What an awful feeling! It was vertigo that the medics assumed dad had when they first picked him up… Oh, if only! What a happier story I’d be telling today! For me, the shock lasted for about five days until I finally started feeling like I could have any kind of positive impact on the situation.

The other “new” stage is testing. Here’s where you start envisioning a future and considering different outcomes. For example, if Dad can’t take care of himself, who looks after Mom? Maybe Mom needs an emergency alert. Maybe we need to think about checking on her more often. It’s so endearing to see them worrying about each other, but at the same time, heartbreaking to think of one without the other. Thankfully, that is not today’s discussion. I think I keep trying to force us to the testing stage, because I want to be done with the others, they are too painful. However, all of the stages must be experienced, digested, and overcome before acceptance can occur. And just because you go through one of the stages, does not mean that you’re done with it… it is a cycle until you get to healing. Now, more than ever, I’m realizing that it never ends. Lisa died 15 years ago and I still can’t let that go and I still miss her so much. But in dad’s case, we are blessed, he kept all of his wit and snark and kindness that we all love so much! And as he is so fond of saying, there is no point in worrying.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

Stroke Survivors are Boring!

Dad’s sleeping. No, I can’t hold his hand. Just sit here quietly in case he needs a pillow fluffed. In an hour. Never know.

So maybe a good time to recap. For posterity. You know. History is written by the victorious and today, despite all that’s occurred, we are victorious. This is the gospel according to me:

Mary texted everyone that dad was in hospital.

22-Aug 10:06 AM:

In case anyone doubts my social awkwardness, instead of booking a flight like a normal person, I ordered a dozen red roses to the hospital:





In my defense, I assumed heart attack.

Next important update from Mars (that’s slang for Mary), that is, I mean, aside from the super critical communications ensuring that he didn’t lose any of his 36-month streaks on any of his daily puzzles.

22-Aug 3:05 PM

For whatever reason (must be the “Dad” in me) I focused on “she’s pretty”).

Next big thing:

22-Aug 7:30 PMSo he was life-flighted to a “better” hospital and … well … you be the judge:

23-Aug 1:09 AM23-Aug 11:40 AM23-Aug 11:50 AM23-Aug 1:15 PM23-Aug 2:38 PM

Turns out it WAS the big artery. Oh, whoops! This is why they call it “practicing”. Alas, we move on!

As a result, he has lost much of the functioning of his left side as well as bowel and bladder control. His nurse today told him kegel exercises may bring that back. While I’m sad my dad has to go through this, there’s not a woman over the age of forty who can’t relate to the second half of those symptoms.

This week, Dad’s hit many major milestones:

  • Voice is back, loud, strong, clear
  • Walks with assistance
  • Races wheelchair down the hall
  • Poops!
  • Feeding tube is out!
  • I.V. is out!
  • Got out of helping Mike fix the car

Great week! More to come…

P.S. Pitt / Penn State game is in five days… if Dad can’t fight him off, Dave’s going to put a Penn State jersey on him. So far, we got J.K. (one of his nurses) rooting for Penn State but a medical student volunteer with a mean right hook on the Pitt side… anyone who knows me knows how I love sports… I’m on the edge of my seat!

Funny thing happened on the way to the car…

Many who read this will conclude that I am racist and I’m okay with that … a funny story is a funny story and I can’t let your perception of me get in the way of that. The joke must go on …

A few nights ago, Dad’s nurse came in, a rather big black man with a beautiful smile. Now, he wasn’t big like tall or big like fat, he was just big. Strong. He had tattoos, but they were tasteful. He, Dad, and Matt talked about the Army. I thanked him for his service. A real stand-up guy. The kinda guy that makes you feel safe to leave your dad in his care.

The next night, I saw another man of the same general build and color, said “hello” and he responded with a warm smile like he knew me. My silly brain said, “Oh! Eric!” so my silly mouth said, “Hi, Eric!” and he bristled… “I don’t look anything like Eric!” I looked him over and said, “Oh! Of course! No tattoos!” He was pissed! I smiled and apologized, didn’t know what else to do.

So last night, I told Dad the story, felt pretty bad, but what could I do? I guess I’m racist! I see color. I see size. Shape. Big boobs. Big eyes. Friendly smile. Not much else. I was berated once by my deacon’s wife (who is white, by the way) when I said, “Hi, I’m Anne Marie!” and she said, “I know! I’ve met you three times already!” I remember features, that’s it. There was nothing I saw (other than lack of tattoos) to distinguish this fella.

So last night, in walks this big black man. Dad says, “Hi, Eric!” then looked at me and said, “Are you gonna tell him or should I?” So I burst into, “Eric, you are not going to believe what happened last night … ” proceeded to tell the story, then glanced at his arms … guess what? No tattoos! Then Dad, feeling bad but making it worse, said, “I see it now! Eric has very kind eyes!” I said, “Look, I’m sorry we’re racist or whatever, but what’s different about you?” If somebody asked me how to tell my dad apart from me, I’d say I have hair. You can tell Chrissy from me because she has big boobs. His answer, “that dude’s, like, three shades lighter than me!” Are you freaking kidding me? Do I need to explain the Home Owners’ Association paint color debacle?

Yes! I can tell the difference when the two colors are side-by-side… so I ask, “Which of the two of you is better looking?” He says, “Me, I guess…”

I haven’t seen Eric since, but I suspect this new fella is wrong. The thing is, under normal circumstances, I have difficulty memorizing a face. We are all stressed and the nurses change every few days. We have Ardeina, the angel of angels, who got dad un-stuck (a glorious story for another post). The lovely Brenda Lee, who sings, “I’m sorry, so sorry …”, Tosha, a woman of very few word, Mary, the angry old white woman (the rest are, in fact, black, except for Thanh – pronounced tan, Asian, seems nice, her English is a little rough, but still better than Siri’s … she walked in as I’m writing this post, so I’m editing; and how could I forget JK from South Korea? Maybe because he’s a Penn State fan? He just stopped in to check on Dad, even though he’s working on the other wing. Sweet boy!), I’m blanking on the name of the lady with blonde hair who pretends to like football but, like me, just really doesn’t care (but she did a mean victory dance when AB joined the Pats), Eric the Mighty, and now this fella, Kwame, pronounced Kwah-MAY. Are you freaking kidding me?

So racism is (1) assuming general characteristics based on an irrelevant characteristic (e.g. skin color) and (2) being fearful of the “other”. I am guilty of both, I think, because (1) I assumed all big black male nurses are Eric and (2) I am fearful that this new fella will hold a grudge against my dad for our lack of skill at the “Guess Who?” game.

In any case, we clearly have a long way to go in terms of race relations, but I submit that this is everyone’s fight … we all need to remember to (1) be kind and (2) assume the best intentions. Let’s not let Dr. King’s dream die in Bloomfield!

#WeLoveEric #MyDadLooksLikeDickCheney

We Don’t Want Annie!

We Don’t Want Annie

So I’m here finally, felt like a month I waited! Dad had a stroke last Thursday (22nd), he remembers having a conversation with me (never happened) in which I asked him if it was okay if I didn’t come up right away. He concluded that I was looking for an excuse to take off work. Not quite. Work and husband and kids was all that kept me anchored this past week as I wondered if this (attached) was the last conversation we’d have. My siblings held down the fort while I prayed and prepared and filled up my batteries for the coming months.

As Mr. Mackin said, it’s important to know your limits. And I have so many! I’ve been dreading our last goodbye since I was about five and I’m happy to report that today is not that day. Dad walked today (with assistance) and kicked so much ass in therapy, so proud of him!

Two beautiful songs that make some sense of the chaos are “My Father’s Chair” by Rick Springfield and “Reservoir” by Gathering Field.

Today, I’m happy to be here and happy he’s here and happy to hold Mom up (though, if I’m being honest, it’s her holding me up …)

So, to explain the title, Dad has my name in his phone, so when I call, it says, “call from Ennie” and he answers “We don’t want any!” It’s so silly, the things that you miss! So how awesome that I should bump into — okay it wasn’t “bumping into”; as a deacon, it’s not a stretch to find this fella at church — Jim Mackin, the king of the Dad jokes. We talked about dad, told a few corny jokes, and I told him about how much joy Janet’s stories about her daughters bring (grrrl, keep ’em coming!)

So enough for today! And, yeah, blogs are a bit narcissistic, but if Dad didn’t want me to be that guy, he shouldn’t have given me these genes. Or jeans. Or whatever. Bye for now.