Friday, March 18, 2016

The Longest Winter

We lost something special when Marilyn passed away last week.

  I’m getting kind of sick of people dying. My stepmother-in-law Penni has been in poor health for years with diabetes and no immune system to speak of. Three weeks ago she was in the hospital recovering from one of her many illnesses when her brain just stopped functioning. She was kept alive for a few days while relatives flew to South Carolina to say their goodbyes and went quickly once the plug was pulled. Penni was 70. Kathy went to South Carolina for the funeral while I worked and stayed home with the beagles.

  Two weeks ago longtime chess player and organizer Roger from Ames passed away. I wrote about Roger last week and don’t want to repeat myself except to say I liked and respected Roger and he was 77 when he passed. I hadn’t seen Roger or Penni in a number of years and while their passing was a shock it was not something that impacted me very much. Yes that does sound cruel but it is just the way it is and I can’t recall if I’ve seen anything different in anyone I’ve ever known (although not many will admit to it).

  I’ve written in the past about my neighbors Bill and Marilyn from down the block, their daughter Becky, and their Cairn Terrier Abby. When Kathy and I take Daisy and Baxter on their nightly walks if the weather is warm enough we would see them on their front porch and visit for a half hour or more. Bill and Marilyn are in their 90’s so we don’t see them outside unless the weather is very warm. I dislike winter but I figure that if I could get to March I had it made because any snowstorms or freezing weather would be fleeting and it would only be a few weeks before the weather would be warm enough to hang out with Bill and Marilyn which is how I knew winter was over.

  Now when people are in their 90’s making it through the winter is not a sure thing. Over the past 20 years I’ve seen Bill go from walking his Cairn terrier and driving Marilyn and Becky around town to walking his dog with the help of a cane to not being able to drive and having to use a walker to even get to the front porch. And I’ve seen Marilyn rip the skin from her arm from scraping it against a door and then watch it take all summer to heal. But every winter they made it through and every summer we would visit on their front porch.

  This last winter was a rough one for Marilyn. She was in and out of the hospital and we saw the sign outside their house saying there was no smoking because oxygen was in use. Needing oxygen is rarely a good sign but in the last few weeks Kathy and I saw her sitting in her living room waving to us as we walked the dogs past and the oxygen sign went away. Last month Becky let Daisy and Baxter in so Marilyn could pet them. It’s always fun seeing Marilyn’s delight at seeing Daisy and Baxter in the winter. We would hold them up and she would beam as she petted each of them and say ‘You remember me, don’t you?’ Daisy will let anyone pet her and Baxter is standoffish to strangers but Baxter would always let Bill and Marilyn pet him. I had a standoffish relationship with both my grandmothers (especially my dad’s mom who didn’t speak English) but Marilyn reminded me of the idealized sort of grandmothers I would read and hear about – mostly cheerful, mostly wise, and always kind.

  Two weeks ago the oxygen sign returned to Bill and Marilyn’s house and then the Saturday before last when we were taking Daisy and Baxter on their noon walk we saw a funeral home car parked on Bill and Marilyn’s block. We didn’t know what was going bit we had our suspicions and tried to make up a scenario that the funeral home car was just making a cold call or was there for the sick guy that we knew lived across the street. We went about our afternoon but at 4 we got a call from Becky telling us that Marilyn has passed away that morning at home. We went over and hung out with Becky and Bill who told us that Marilyn hadn’t been doing very well for the past week and just couldn’t breathe anymore.

  Becky went out to get dinner and Kathy and I stayed with Bill who told us both he and Marilyn wanted to go first so they wouldn’t have to live without each other. We talked a bit and Becky came back with their dinner so we left. On Tuesday we went to the funeral/memorial service. I don’t go to a lot of funerals but I did go to this one which was about as depressing as I expected. Marilyn was all dressed up, made up, and fixed up for the viewing. One of the relatives marveled at how good she looked and asked my opinion. I felt like saying she looked better a couple of weeks ago but I knew that wouldn’t be a good thing to say which is a big part of why I hardly ever go to funerals. There was a slide show with pictures of Bill and Marilyn all through their lives and some people talked about Marilyn and Bill and this life and the next life. There were a couple of songs (one of which was ‘Happy Trails’) and the ceremony was over.

  Marilyn’s passing bothered me more than the death of any person for at least 30 years and that includes both my parents. I wondered about why that is and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is because her life and death had an impact on me every day. We’ve walked Daisy and Baxter a couple of dozen times past Bill and Marilyn’s house in the past weeks and it just isn’t the same knowing that Marilyn won’t be on the couch waving to the beagles or having us bring them into the house for her to pet them. And I’m not even especially looking forward to winter being over as much. I’m sure we’ll still hang out with Bill and Becky and Abbey but it won’t be the same. Left unspoken is how Bill will handle being without his wife of 73 years. The whole thing is a bummer and while I thought I’d feel better after writing this I don’t feel any different than I did when I started writing this a week ago - I’m getting kind of sick of people dying.

Marilyn chose Happy Trails to be played at her funeral. I haven't thought much about my funeral's playlist but this Johnny Cash song would be a front runner...

...while this Bob Dylan tune would be near the end of the list