Saturday, July 05, 2008

Change of P(l)ace

The sky over Olympia is overcast but the day is not at all dark. I call it subdued and am basking in its calm after the intensity of Phoenix. Here I can look at the world without my eyeballs turning to ash. Some rain fell last night, unnoticed by me. Rain here is soft. Rain in Phoenix is dramatic; we had a "monsoon" thunderstorm my last night there. Not soft at all. The Arizona monsoon,which is moist air from the Gulf of Mexico moving north and west this time of year, blocked the sky some nights but I still got those wonderful open desert sky views that have always thrilled me. I saw the conjunction of Mars, Regulus and Saturn one night in Phoenix against an immense sky that is much less common here. I do see stars and planets in Olympia, more so than Phoenix. I've been following Mars and Saturn for weeks from my balcony and neighborhood but I don't often get the immense perspective that I find in the desert, even with Phoenix light pollution. I do, however, like today's cool temperatures in Olympia, not expected to break 70.

The past week was an eventful one for me. I helped Maggie bury her mother. We sent Marion off with some Bailey's Irish Cream, a deck of pinochle cards, a photo of her dog and a slide from her Hawaiian honeymoon. The funeral also introduced much of the family to a half-sister and her 20 or 21 year old daughter. Maggie had mentioned a half sister at times but she was totally absent as far as I new. Maggie's police detective sister located the half sister in Phoenix earlier this year to tell her of Marion's failing health. I learned some of the backstory this week but it's not mine to tell; it's enough to say that the family has re-united with the absent sibling and unknown cousin.

A second significant event this past week was the offer of employment that I have accepted, my first full-time job since leaving Window Rock seven years ago. I make the change willingly--salary, benefits, challenging work in an interesting setting--it's pretty much everything I could want at a time that I can use it. I do remember that I left my last job singing Chris Chandler's refrain that "successful unemployment is more challenging than having a job". That part of me feels like I am surrendering. On the other hand, employment will help me fulfill some important life goals. Putting about 40 percent of my time at an employer's disposal will definitely change my schedule but think it will stop me from blogging. You just won't read about my work in this space.


Friday, July 04, 2008

A Day Marked by Illuminations and Bonfires

My return to the Northwest has been accompanied by a roaring display of fireworks. Mostly aural, although I saw some larger ones here and there coming down from SeaTac. Here in the hood, the noise is constant popping and and banging. It's been going on pretty much steadily in the hour since I arrived with no apparent end. I saw smoke and smelled cordite as I turned in the driveway. Maggie and I spent July 4, 2003 in Portland, Oregon and heard much the same cacophony. It actually began on the 3rd there.

The randomness in sound and location--it's all around me--gives it the sense of a moving firefight with call and response from all sides, back and forth. A string of Black Cats makes a fair machine gun burst. A single pop is a sniper. Distant pops and rumbles make the sound pervasive--you could walk for hours and not get out of it. It could be the light weapons soundtrack to a major battle.

July 4, 1973 is the birthday of my first dog, Toby, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Toby lived and traveled with me for more than 15 years.

July 4, 1776 is more or less the day that the Continental Congress agreed to one of the finest statements of human rights ever proclaimed.

July 4, 2008 is a day when I regret to say that my government no longer honors the stirring ideals of The Fourth of July.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands

Arranging a funeral is never an easy task. Many years ago, I led a team conducting a performance audit of the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers. During that project I learned much about the ways of the business and the efforts to reform some of its more egregious practices. Central to most of the concerns was the fact that bereaved families are often unable to deal with the vagaries and uncertainties of funeral planning, often incurring expenses that they would otherwise think about more rationally.

All this comes to mind as I watch Maggie arrange for her mother's funeral. I won't go into the details other than to say that she does not feel she is getting straight answers to from the cemetery where her mother will be interred. Due to uncertainties regarding the grave, where Maggie's grandparents are already buried, the cemetery opened the grave to determine what space is available and what will be needed for a third burial. Even so, the answers Maggie has received are frustratingly vague. Maggie, being an individual unwilling to settle for those vague answers, conducted her own inspection.

You can always do better with first hand information.


Marion Reardon (1920-2008)

Marion Reardon died on Wednesday, June 26. You won’t see her obituary in any of the mainstream media and certainly her funeral will not be a semi-state occasion like Tim Russert’s. The significance of her life and death is personal to me and especially to her daughter, Maggie, my partner of 20 plus years. During those years I came to know Marion as a woman of considerable talent, accomplishment and determination.

Marion was a single mother beginning in the mid-1960’s, back when that status carried no small amount of social disapproval. She worked hard, raised two fine daughters, and managed to not only hold on to property she purchased with her mother but also to acquire additional property. Maggie describes a childhood of, not poverty, but some financial difficulty. Marion’s strength and determination served her family well during those years. In later years, though, that self-reliance led her to resist any and all attempts to assist her, even as she slowly fell into dementia. She had been on her own so long she was unable to accept any assistance as her physical and mental health declined. Had she been less resistant, perhaps she could have remained in her home rather than (more than reluctantly) move to an assisted living facility.

Since I only new Marion in her last two decades, I had little opportunity to know her as the vibrant person she was. I helped Maggie and her sister clean out the house where Marion lived for some 40 years and saw an immense trove of memorabilia and fine vintage clothing that told me that this sometimes argumentative and difficult older woman had much travel, adventure and ambition in her life. She moved to Phoenix from The Bronx in the late 1940’s, becoming one of the first migrants in Arizona’s post-WWII growth. The city she came to is far different than the one where she died. I’m probably biased but I consider her two daughters to be evidence of a life well lived. She was a Depression-era New Deal Democrat who had no love for any Republican. Even in her final years, as she became increasingly distant from reality, she continued to despise George W. Bush. He mind was going but some reason remained.

Along with the sadness and loss of Marion’s passing, Maggie and I, and probably her sister, too, also feel a sense of relief. Dementia is a particularly difficult disease for all concerned. Marion was confused and angry at the changes in her life. The rest of us were frustrated at the difficulties posed by Marion’s dementia. All that is behind us now. Marion is at peace. We survivors can go on with our lives. Maybe Marion can find George Carlin and the two of them can have a good talk with Tim Russert.

Godspeed, Marion, and thanks for everything.