Father’s Day

It’s happy Father’s Day all over the U.S.A. but some of the children are not so happy.

I just lost my father last Wednesday, watched as his coffin was lowered into the ground. That makes it real! His body needed to leave since it was wracked by lymphoma, the cancer enlarging his spleen which pushed on his stomach which left him with little appetite. Going out to eat was his final pleasure in life. Going to Bob Evans, for example, was a social occasion for him and he quickly made favorites of the pretty young waitresses. I suppose they looked upon him as a grandfather or just a nice old man.

He was a nice old man. Not much of a talker, though. I sometimes wondered what our father-daughter karma was but now I think Norman Beiser was a steady listener for me. Thank you, dad, wherever you are!

Now I am a member of the Adult Orphan Society. I am 65, after all, and own a home on my own and mother furry animals rather than children. I am an adult who can sort through my thoughts and emotions, who writes about them, and shares communication with others.

One writing friend does not speak to her father because he was cruel to her in her childhood. I know another young father who is a baby daddy and has a kid by two different women, neither of whom he is married to. When I asked my own father about my early childhood, he remembered little. “I worked two jobs,” he informed me, back in the early and mid 1950’s. He also met another woman and, for this, my mother divorced him. They were too young to be married with three children. Thankfully, my mother’s retired German schoolteacher mother had saved her pennies and helped her out until she met and married my stepfather.

So fathers can vary, as do people of any age or sex. Responsibility is the word I think of when I think of a good father. In the normal realm, responsibility consists of earning money, making sure your children are fed, supporting your wife. My biological father did all of this until I was three. That was a very long time ago. I took my mother’s side for decades in my early feminist days. After I was involved in my own intimate relationships, I realized the actual truth was often something other than either partner’s view of the truth. So I forgive both my parents for the decisions they made along the way. For I am no better.

On this Hallmark day of sappy cards, grilling out, etc., I ask that we all pause, reflect a bit deeper, and really mean Happy Fathers Day when we say (write) it.

Holiday weekend ennui

I drove my dad to the cemetery where our Beiser’s are buried. As you can see from the photograph of the headstone, there is an opening in that plot, in the ground below us. My father, “Norman,” has a space waiting for him next to his deceased wife (this is the woman he married after my mother and his divorce).

Here’s our conversation in front of the headstone:

Me: “Doesn’t it feel weird to see your name on a headstone?”
“Do you believe–or hope–you’ll meet [his wife] at the end of the light?

Dad: “What I HOPE is that someone will have my date filled in!”

That’s our dry family wit.

But that’s not the end of my holiday weekend ennui. Ennui is a French word describing a feeling that combines tiredness and boredom. It’s more complex than this. Here’s my intuitive fastwrite of a post trying to get to the bottom of these holiday weekend sadnesses:

I am single. No children. Being a lesbian still makes me an outsider to much of the world in spite of all the gay news lately about same-sex marriage. I have no family, automatically in place, to spend a holiday weekend with. No grilling out with the grandkids, no movies to watch together, no hopping in the car for ice cream.

Now, in many ways I have chosen all this. I mean, some lesbians do have children and grandchildren. I’m not one. And I’m well aware that there’s a certain Norman Rockwell sort of insipid fuzzy gladness in these images.

So I need to create my own family, circle of intimates, friends. As a matter of fact, I did have an invitation to a lesbian party Sunday evening. But I spent the entire afternoon picking dad up fifteen miles away, driving to the Bevis Cemetery near my neighborhood, taking him back home, then driving myself back home. Sixty miles. I was happy to do this (especially happy I had the energy post-cardiac surgery). It meant, however, that I’d be too tired to drive to Lebanon later for the women’s gathering. So I missed out.

So there is usually this sense of something missing most holiday weekends.

Later I realized there were two events that happened past Memorial Day weekends: Only a few years ago, I had to have my handsome elkhound Bodhi put down. He could no longer walk plus he stopped eating. Spent the night on the living room floor, never getting up.

Last year, I spent two nights in Maine meeting a woman I’d met only online. We’d shared months’ worth of emails and took an online class together. We were both in our 60’s and (now I realize) wistful for a love partnership. If I tell you I changed my plane ticket to fly home a day early this will give you the ending. One year ago. Hope and illusion.

It may take a few more Memorial Day weekends to soften the memory of Bodhi and Ms. Maine. These memories are attached only to Memorial Day weekend. I know I am strong as well as sensitive. I’ll get through this, especially now that I am aware of it. The one thing I CAN do is invite people over. I don’t have a grill but I have a spectacular deck and backyard!

Compassion over mulch at the White Oak Garden Center

It was a Sunday in early May but not Mother’s Day. I may not have had much sense driving to the White Oak Garden Center to do what I planned to do but I did have sense enough to avoid it on such a special flower day.

I went to get some mulch.

That sounds ordinary enough now, doesn’t it? But it had been barely ten weeks since my open heart surgery and lifting was still tentative, especially a forty pound bag of mulch.

After I had selected and paid for my four bags, I started driving to the back to pick up my order. By now there were several cars with uncertain drivers, including me. Where were we to park for the mulch? There were options which–with a car behind me, one in front, and one on the side–began to irritate me. (I realized later that my irritation had to do with my sudden realization that I was going to have trouble unloading my mulch at home!)

One of my pet peeves is someone following too closely and, although the young guy in the red truck wasn’t actually doing so, in my agitated state he seemed close. I made an irritated face and put my left hand out the window, showing “hold on!”

When he and the other guy ended up next to me, I felt embarrassed. The garden guy took their receipt first and the older man who turned out to be the father said, “She was before us.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that. And–sorry I was in a bad mood driving down here. I didn’t know where to park and was feeling surrounded by cars.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. Hi, I’m Dan and this is my son.”

How gracious! Dan and I shook hands.

The garden guy deposited mulch into the back on my Honda CR-V. It hit me: how the hell was I going to deal with these bags once I got home? I muttered something to this effect.

“How close do you live? We could follow you and get it out of your car for you.”

I couldn’t believe his offer. The Universe seemed to be answering my muttered wish.

“That’s so kind of you! I might just take you up on your offer. You see, I’m recuperating from heart surgery.”

After they got their twenty bags of mulch in the back of their truck, Dan and his son followed me on Sheed Road.
I backed into the side yard in front of the fence gate to the back. They put two bags there and two bags in front by some bushes.

“Thank you so much. You’ve given me faith again in human beings!”

As we talked, the conversation came back to my recent open heart surgery. What hospital, when, and more. Dan told me he is a nurse and teaches at Cincinnati State Community College. What were the odds? I was amazed by the coincidence of being helped by someone who knew so much about health. And was so kind.

They admired my little nature preserve and said their goodbyes. I felt warm and fuzzy inside, trite but true. And will never look at bags of mulch the same again.

Tears come easily now

It’s not a bad thing. It just “is,” in the tradition of wise speaker and workshop guru Byron Katie.

The tears flow easily down my cheeks when I’m trying to get to sleep or are just waking. In between the worlds. Transition.

The most clear and profound instance was one evening as I was reading about the heart, how it works. It was an online site aimed at children. More easily understood. With no warning it hit me – truly and beyond reason – how amazing our heart system is.

Without attention (unless something goes wrong). Without thanks. The heart beats on an incredible number of times in one life.

These are what I call pure tears–not from sadness or distress, not joy or bliss. Tears of amazement.

My heart memoir may be a project for awhile!

For those of you who don’t know me in person or follow me on Facebook, you don’t know what happened after that post about my chest pains and upcoming hospital procedure. Obviously, I lived! (Phebe lives & isn’t Spring beautiful is my current mantra).

What was totally unexpected was that I needed open-heart surgery. I was told the stents would fight each other, that I had multiple blocked arteries. As fate would have it, one of the best surgeons in the City, evidently (Dr. Answini) had an opening the next day.

The test was Monday, my surgery was Tuesday, I left the hospital Sunday afternoon. My friend and colleague in the arts, Bev Bowers, began rounding people up to spend nights with me, bring me meals, help in those daily ways. My friend Vic Ramstetter quickly made calls that Sunday morning to line up that first week–back home. And my sister Linda Sutton was a true bodhisattva, giving up much of her life for a week to be at the hospital, communicate with the nurses, buy me a recliner, and keep me company.

So it all happened so fast. This is a good thing! I didn’t have much time to be scared of dying, make arrangements, and process it all until these past few months. February 10th was the triple bypass, February 17th my birthday, and I am now taking my coronary heart disease seriously. Cardiac rehab is great, so helpful. I am throwing a party/celebration in two weeks to thank my helpers and honor my 65th birthday three months later.

I will share some of my stories here, from time to time. Plan to publish my heart memoir (Angina Monologues, anyone?) at some point, even if it’s self-publishing just ‘cuz.

My mother would have been 85 today

April 9th is a date that stands out for me: it is the date of my mother’s birth.

Today she would have been 85. Always easy to remember because she was twenty when I was born and twenty is an easy number for me to add to my own birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom (wherever ‘you’ are)!

I want to share the poem I wrote about my last day on Earth with her in March 2007. All five of her children plus two spouses were there, crowded in that hospice room at Ft. Hamilton Hospital. We Beisers, at least, seem to be a stubborn bunch! I’ve been told by several nurse friends that their experience is that people often die when you leave the room. But my siblings and I were not budging.

To honor and memorialize my mother (Irene “Shirley” Hornsby), I read my poem at my Thursday class at Women Writing for (a) Change this morning. We were having a readaround where we take turns sharing a piece we wrote. So, by popular demand, (at least from family and friends on Facebook), below is the poem:


It was her death, after all;
I was only an observer.
Lung cancer or not,
it all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Towards the end, a final gasp.
My little sister, a nurse’s aide,
watched for signs:
See that blue, the
mottled colors on her feet–
the oxygen is lessening.
It all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.

Later I called Jeri the conductor,
the family guide to mom’s passing.
When I, the last, reached the room
my little sister informed our mother
that all five of her children were there.
She had fought hard and now
it was okay to let go.
Earlier that day–
eyes seeing something we could not—
our mother exclaimed
“amazing” with no explanation.
We like to remember the joy
in that moment; meanwhile,
it all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.

When it was time she opened her eyes.
The look did not include us.
There in that room
with all her children watching,
she died with her mouth open.
The nurse checked her heartbeat
then told us she was gone.
She took the oxygen tube out
of our mother’s nostrils.
She asked me to turn the tanks off.

First one, then the other.
Suddenly so silent.
No more humming,
that nagging but necessary
noise of artificial breath
that had haunted her
those final few months.
No more need for these
tanks and tubes.

2:25 on a Sunday morning
and all we could do was
breathe in, breathe out.
It all comes down to the breath.

Sunday Palms


I am happy to be sharing a moment of sacrament this afternoon with Phebe.  As it was proclaimed in this season with a different pronoun– SHE IS ALIVE!—-  Not that many Sunday’s ago we met at her A-framed home in the woods to experience each other’s writing wonders! The very next day she was told that her heart and really all of her cells were in for a big hospital trip!  Those doctors and nurses did a good job. Whew!  It is thrilling to sit and write with this Goddess Babe sister.

After a writing retreat last fall, I came home and called her immediately. I knew that she was the one and when I called her she answered me with a delightful willingness.  My writing life has been like the tide with it’s comings and goings. I needed the support of the land that is sometimes only available in…

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