Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day – 10, because on the -9th day, I rested

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day – 10 (because on the -9th day, I rested)

Of the five trips I made to Los Angeles during my mother’s illness, the third was a quick one after she suffered a small stroke due to endocarditis. Her heart valves had become infected, forming broccoli type growths, destroying 80% of their usefulness. The doctors said these growths would flake away, travel up to her brain and cause strokes. In time, the infection even spread to her liver, after spending time in her spine, causing more pain and damage. After the stroke, my sister called me to say one of the endless stream of doctors told her they didn’t think my mother would last through the night. She actually lived more than two additional months. However, right after the stroke, it seemed she was going downhill fast. Then suddenly, she rallied. I’ve been told by others there are often rallies before the final descendancy to the ever after.

Her brother, my dear Uncle Michael, came to LA this time. His partner Sam was too ill at the time to come with him on this trip. My uncle is 78 year’s old and slowing down. That he’s alive at all is a wonder as he came close to death himself back in 1997 when it was discovered he had AIDS. A combination of AIDS cocktails, a large circle of supportive friends and his own, and Sam’s, focused determination get the credit for his continued robust survival.

Although my post-stroke mother was comatose, we were told by the doctors to try and communicate with her. It was espescially heartbreaking to see my uncle, who never thought he’d outlive his sister, tearily try and speak to her, attempting to break through whatever blanketed layers stood between us and her damaged consciousness…and through the ear canals of someone who’d lost both their hearing aids months before.

On this trip, my rental car came iPhone ready. I set up a playlist on my phone of 30’s and 40’s songs for my uncle and my dad, figuring I’d be driving both of them around more often than not. It was no more than 15 songs total. Lots of Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong. In particular there was a Billie Holliday track I had recently discovered called “The Man I Love.” I had somehow stumbled upon it, tooling around Youtube one day, while sampling different songs. The combination of the Gershwin composition, Billie’s 100% convincing and emotive voice, those heart tugging descending horns in the verses and Lester Young’s signature solo telegraphing both economy and confidence, is to my ears, which are less familiar with this genre of music than the music I grew up with, one of the most sublime recordings I have ever heard. It’s a musical marriage made in heaven. Conversely, here are the three of us, with so much bad water under our respective bridges, all sighing simultaneously under the spell of this transcendent music. Later on, when I was less receptive, my father said these trips in the car listening to music were some of the highlights of his day. He may drive me bananas but it takes too much energy to hate him. Better to soothe the savage beast.

© Curt Weiss 2014

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day – 8

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day – 8

*He never understood the DNR.

The Palliative Care doc said we should decide on a DNR. My father said “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” The doc said, “We’ve come to it.” After discussing the pros and cons, he asked me to make the decision. Was it that he didn’t trust his own cognitive skills or did he want someone else to be guilty of pulling the plug. I said, “We should do it” in a barely audible voice. A few days later he rescinded it. My sister got him to put it back. Later on when the dialysis doc recommended stopping dialysis, he agreed without hesitation. I said to my sister, “He doesn’t understand what he just did.” A day later he started asking questions. “Won’t it kill her?” “Dad, it’s not helping her anymore.” “But won’t she die sooner?”

This is key for me. When your life is as miserable as hers was those last few weeks, death WAS the better alternative. Maybe some moral code is telling you that no one should make that choice. I’m telling you, be prepared to make that choice.

“Dad, if I’m ever in the same condition as her, drive me off of a cliff.”

When she finally passed, my father asked, “Why didn’t they try to revive her?”

He never understood the DNR.

*I tried to explain to my dad who Leee Childers was. “He was that friend of mine who had the photo exhibit and then got sick. The fellow I tried to visit in the hospital.” When I explained who he was, he said “He must have been a very wealthy man.” “No dad, he wasn’t. But he was so generous and loved that he seemed to always have people willing to step up and help him.” Food for thought perhaps? When Mott the Hoople were on American TV in late ’73/early ’74, I remember watching it and my dad just stared from the distance. They played this song. On the album, it’s dedicated to Leee.

© Curt Weiss 2014

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day -7

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day -7

• He may be a health nut but he likes his cake. Not gooey, frosted kind of cakes, but dry, dunkable cakes. You could call it a coffee cake. Growing up, he would stuff the cake in a tall glass, pour coffee with milk over it and eat it with a spoon. It’s not bad actually. A biscotti will also do and so will scones.

We were in a steak house and he started the meal by asked for a scone.

A scone.

In a steak house.

(Insert Eye roll here)

• I sent my sister some links of supported housing for the elderly in Los Angeles and she was sure he’d seen them before. Even if he did, he couldn’t have understood how to use them. There’s all kinds of search filters. It must be terrifying to be old, alone and broke. If you’re a narcissist and you’re alienating your remaining family, you’re really on your own. This is when the “funny” stops.

• He really liked Sly and the Family Stone. Both the music and the clothes. He used to repeatedly ask, “What ever happened to Sly?” He’s stopped asking so that may be another memory that’s slipped into a pothole down memory lane (that’s a Randy Newman line, not mine. I give credit where it’s due.) He also loved the Locker dancers. They were a dance troupe that often appeared on Soul Train. Fred ‘Rerun” Berry was a member and I think my dad liked him the most. I guess it gave him hope that my mom could get buck wild in spite of her girth. I think I was listening to Black Sabbath at the time…

© Curt Weiss 2015

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day – 6

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day – 6

*He called me this evening and I even answered. Seems reality is once again knocking at his door and forcing its way in:

Dad – “Curt, the bank called and they’re aware that mother has died. They want a copy of the death certificate. Do you have it?

Note that I gave him a certified copy the day before I left and told him not to lose it

Me – “Dad, remember I gave you a copy before I left? It’s to the left of the computer keyboard.”
Dad – “Hmm, let me look.”
Me – “Dad, look in the envelope where the power of attorney docs are. It’s blue and while and official looking.”
Dad – “Wait a minute. Let me see if I can find it. Wait, here’s the envelope. Amazing, it’s there!”

Will wonders never cease?

*My wife keeps giving me these verbal scripts to use while talking to him.

“Hon, I’ve been very clear with him about what to do. You act as if we’re dealing with a rational person.”

*My dad was a pretty straight laced guy. He always wore the same shoes to work (had multiple pairs) and wasn’t into getting with the 60’s. In the early 70’s though, he had surgery for some torn up body part. He was always tearing something: elbows, multiple hernias, etc. He ended up in a hospital where he was one of the few white people. When he got home, all of a sudden he liked dancing to modern music. Before that he only liked latin music. Now he liked black music. “I was the only white guy in there, and the black patients were always putting on music and dancing. I was having surgery the next day and thought about it: I may be dead tomorrow. I might as well have some fun.” He started dancing with them. “They called me ‘Stepper’.” Now he wore bell bottoms and Huckapoo shirts and watched Soul Train on Saturday mornings. He loved “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” I doubt he ever listened to the lyrics. Then again, maybe Stepper did?

© Curt Weiss 2014

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day – 5

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day – 5

• Unexpectedly I lost somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds in the 28 days I was staying with my dad. I say unexpectedly because during that time, I drank like a fish, did almost no exercise and often ate pizza or Korean buns. For almost a year I had been on the Fast Diet (2 days a week of 600 calories max), but plateaued a few months back. In LA, I occasionally did a “fast” day but never twice in a week. How did I lose weight? Was it stress? Was I just too busy to eat sometimes? Was it because one parent died or because I was stressed by the survivor? I don’t think I had a tape worm. I recall that when my paternal Grandfather died in the mid-1980’s, I began a successful diet. It was one of those situations where I was just too busy to eat and went with it. Whatever it was, I don’t think it’s marketable. What do you call it? The “Diet of the Dead”? That’s beyond gallows humor.

• I’ve yet to change the contact name for my dad’s phone number. Every time he calls, it either says “Mom and Pop” or my mother’s name. At the moment the call comes in, I feel like the Long Island Medium. Then I just feel lousy, both because I know she can’t call me and it’s a call from him. Today he called three times. I was in meetings the first two and answered the third. He called to ask me to explain what the probate attorney said. Afterwards he said he didn’t think he should do it. Zelig knows better.

• My dad once asked if any of my bands played music like this. I said “no”. I think he lost faith in my musical abilities at that point. Should have listened to him:

© Curt Weiss 2014

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day -4

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day -4

I wrote this about two weeks into my stay, when I had more of a sense of humor (before my mother died). It summed up many of my observations about his idiosyncrasies:

An Ode of sorts to “The Loid”

Most of the time I feel as if I must avoid the Loid.
He’s like a mental hemorrhoid
There were times when I was overjoyed
like a perfect haircut from Mayberry’s Floyd
What part of his brain has he employed
as he stumps those partial to Jung and Freud?
Onward, through his unchanging rituals like a spitting, microwave soiling, time sucking droid.
Extreme water picking negating the need of an Altoid.
At least he’s never addressed an African-American as a “Negroid.”
Heavens to Betsy! Better yet: Heavens to Murgatroyd!

© Curt Weiss 2014

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day -3

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day -3

• Someone asked me if I had dreamt about my mom yet. Nope, but first night back home I dreamt that my wife and I ran into Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The three of us ended up in an alcove together where we exchanged condolences (he for my mother and me for his “brother”. Hey, what do you want: it’s a dream!) He was unassuming but for some reason or another, my wife kissed him on the lips. Not a full on wet tongue kiss, or even a big lip lock, but a hesitant little lip to lip moment. Afterwards, she was taken aback by herself. I don’t know if she was confused by his celebrity or overwhelmed by her natural sense to be supportive, but I thought one of them was hitting on the other. I told my sister, the addictions therapist, about the dream, and she said that some people believe that we are all the characters in our dreams, each a part of us. She also said that Phillip was my addiction speaking. I was mostly happy that my wife and I were hitting on each other. When I woke up, I dumped the rest of the vodka down the drain.

• I’ve been asked to read some of my observations on Dr. Mara Karpel’s internet radio program on the elderly and aging next Sunday. If you’ve had enough Easter egg hunting for one day, listen in. I’ll post a link with details soon.

• Dusty, Arthur Alexander and Ringo (at 1:11). Good combo:

© Curt Weiss 2014

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day -2

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day -2

• Spoke to a probate attorney. He said I am not responsible for my father. Told me what my dad should do but after filling him in on my fathers history, he suggested just walking away. Reminds me of a shrink I once had who asked me what could I really do to make my father happy. I thought about it and said, “nothing.” He said, “Then that’s what you should do.” There seems to be a consensus building around here.

• Enough of this too…


© Curt Weiss 2014

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day -1

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day -1

• Before I left he said he found my book on writing book proposals for non-fiction. Uh-oh! I said I was researching it for some friends who had some non-fiction book ideas. Yeah, I lied. What can I say: he’s trained me well.

• Took nine bags of mom’s clothes to Goodwill before I left. “Father has the Plague” sister had about as many. Day before the same. A few months ago eighteen. That’s fifty-four by my count. There are still books, pots and pans, outerwear… Everything’s disposable in the end it seems. I saved mom’s leopard print Snuggie though. It said ‘Wild Side” on the box.

• My dad has a history of making inappropriate comments. My sisters have both had to tell him many times “Do not bring that subject up around me ever again!” One favorite through the years was my mother’s weight. “Do you know how much your mother weighs now?” “No dad, and if she wanted me to know she’d tell me.” By the way: she lost a hundred pounds in the nine months she was sick. She finally reached her dream weight. See, dreams do come true. Since he always has a malpractice suit planned he has all of her medical records. He started to show me a picture of the pressure ulcer at the base of her spine. “No dad, I don’t want to see mom’s ass! Can she die with a shred of dignity please?” He’s done stuff like this for years. One of the worst was when I was working for him on Canal Street in 1984 or 85 and mentioned that I was dating a girl who lived at 7 Mercer Street, less than a block away. He brought me out back to Howard Street and pointed at the building. “That building?” After I nodded, he said “Like father, like son.”

Another Norman Rockwell moment.

© Curt Weiss 2014

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day 28

Observations on quality time with my 84 year old father, day 28

• I bought him a soap dish to put the kitchen sponge and scouring pad in. He kept throwing them in the dish rack, leaving soap and rust where his clean dishes dried. I’ve tried explaining this to him several times but he keeps throwing them in the dish rack instead of the soap dish. As I’m leaving in a day, there’s not a lot else I can do except suggest he make sure he’s had a tetanus shot.

• He is obsessed with the cost of gasoline. “$4.73 a gallon. Boy that’s a lot!” As he doesn’t drive anymore, I wasn’t sure why he cared. My sister thought it was because he had fantasies of driving again. Turns out to be true. He thought it would be cheaper than using Access Transit at $2.50 and the regular bus at $.50 a pop. I took him through the economics of it: “Dad, your car has issues with the breaks, the steering column needs to be replaced and the engine housing is cracked. Plus you need to pay for insurance and register the car. And that’s all assuming you can pass the driving test. You keep telling people you’re legally blind.” It’s like having a 16 year old child who can’t stop plotting how they’re going to get their license and a car. Except this child is 84 year’s old and losing their marbles.

Now his obsession is selling the car. He thinks he’s going to get $2K but Blue Book is $1.5K if in top condition. The car isn’t registered and they never filed the release of lien docs to show that the loan is paid off. Now that my mother’s dead, he needs to have the title changed to his name (he was in the hoosegow when she bought it) and the paperwork can’t be filed for at least 40 days after the title holder has died.

“Can we get the car cleaned up today?”


I’m that guy at the end of the parade with the broom.

• I got certified copies of the death certificate today. I guess that makes it official.

© Curt Weiss 2014